A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked either as a result of a blood clot or from an injury to an artery within the neck.

Another name for this is a ‘brain attack’.

These are several risk factors for a stroke one of these being the menopause.

Types of stroke

There are two main types of stroke:

  • Ischaemic stroke (blood clot blocks an artery to the brain)
  • Haemorrhagic stroke (burst blood vessel in the brain)

Another type of stroke called a ‘cervical artery dissection’occurs when an artery in the neck becomes damaged or torn which then restricts blood flow to the brain.

Mini strokes or ‘transient ischaemic attacks’(TIA’s) are similar to a full blown stroke but occur if blood flow is temporarily interrupted to the brain.

Men are more likely to have a stroke than women but women catch up once they reach the menopause. There are several reasons for this.

Why does this risk increase for women?

You are protected against strokes, heart disease and many other conditions by oestrogen. Oestrogen is one of the main hormones present in your body which is responsible for a variety of functions which include your menstrual cycle.

Whilst you might curse oestrogen at times such as before your period it has its good points which include protection against long term health risks such as osteoporosis, heart disease and strokes.

You are less likely to suffer a stroke than a man but this evens out during the menopause. Unfortunately, women are more likely to die following a stroke, the reasons for which are unclear.

But lifestyle factors such as smoking and excess alcohol consumption are triggers as is ignorance about the condition. Women often see this as something which affects older people especially men and assume that it will not happen to them.

This means that they are less likely to think about the causes of a stroke and the warning signs. These warning signs include slurred speech, double vision, lack of co-ordination and a weakness on one side of the body.

This means that you need to be vigilant regarding these warnings signs and reduce the risks wherever possible.

Risk factors for a stroke

Unfortunately there are some risks which you cannot do anything about. These include your age, ethnic background and family history.

The risk of a stroke rises with age which is why there is an increased risk for women once they reach the menopause. The menopause occurs in middle age which is a time when the risks increase for several other conditions.

There is nothing you can do to change your age but be aware that you are at risk as you enter your 40’s and beyond.

If you are of African-Caribbean descent then you are twice as likely to suffer a stroke as a Caucasian woman. The reasons for that are unclear.

Your family history plays a part. If someone in your immediate family has suffered from a stroke then there is a high chance you will do the same.

Other risks include medical conditions such as diabetes, haemophilia and arrhythmia (abnormal heart rate); high cholesterol and use of recreational drugs, e.g. cocaine.

These are risks which you cannot change. But there are others which you can which are discussed in the following section.

Reducing the risk of a stroke

Your lifestyle plays a big part. If you smoke, drink to excess, eat a junk food diet and are inactive then this will increase the risk of a stroke and several other conditions as well.

Stop smoking, reduce your alcohol intake, eat healthily and do some form of exercise. Being overweight increases the risk so if you are carrying a few too many pounds then aim to lose this.

If you use recreational drugs then stop doing so. Drugs such as cocaine raise the blood pressure and narrow the blood vessels within the brain which can lead to a stroke.

Avoid using this and other types of drugs.

High blood pressure is another factor so have yours checked on a regular basis. There is treatment available for this which will ensure that it is kept at a normal level.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a popular form of treatment for menopausal symptoms but it does have its side effects which include the risk of a stroke.

But the risk of this is small.

Speak to your GP about this as he/she will be able to discuss the benefits and risks of HRT with you. He/she will be able to determine if you are suitable for this form of treatment.

Find out more in our menopause treatment section.

If you want to know more about how changes to your lifestyle affect the symptoms of the menopause and beyond then visit our menopause self help section.

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