Low levels of a key hormone
Dr. Rexrode’s research identified another stroke risk in women: low levels of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). “DHEA, a hormone made by the adrenal glands, is used in the manufacture of other hormones including estrogens and androgens [male hormones],” she says. “It is not entirely clear whether low DHEA levels reflect some other underlying problem, or whether the effect on risk of stroke is through their influence on other hormone levels.”
These vicious headaches are more common in women. According to the American College of Cardiology, having migraines with the visual disturbances known as auras is a risk factor for stroke. Dr. Greene-Chandos points out that migraines are known to constrict brain blood vessels, and that could contribute to cutting off blood supply to the brain. “This increases the risk of stroke,” she says.
Women are also more likely than men to have autoimmune conditions like lupus, Dr. Greene-Chandos says. Recent research from Spain has shown that autoimmune diseases can raise the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. The link may be inflammation, says Dr. Green-Chandos: “Autoimmune inflammatory conditions put women at risk for inflammation of the cerebral vasculature [blood vessels].” Don’t miss these ten foods can cut your risk of stroke.
Mental health problems
Although the connection between mental health and stroke isn’t clear, scientists do know that stress is a risk factor for high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems—and women may be uniquely susceptible to stress, says Dr. Bushnell. A preliminary study from Harvard found that heightened activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain involved in the stress response, was associated with a greater risk of stroke.