Harvard Heart Letter

Women are at higher risk for stroke than men.

For unknown reasons, women are at higher risk than men.

If you have coronary artery disease (CAD), you are at increased risk of having a heart attack. But many people don't know that the same process that causes obstructive fatty plaques to accumulate in the heart's arteries can occur in the brain's arteries, increasing the risk for a stroke, or "brain attack." Strokes occur in almost 800,000 people every year, affecting about 55,000 more women than men.

And CAD isn't the only form of heart disease that increases the risk of stroke. So does atrial fibrillation (AF). AF increases the likelihood of forming a blood clot that can travel to the brain, where it can block the blood flow through an artery. For unknown reasons, older women with AF are at far higher risk of stroke than men, even when they have the same risk factors and are treated appropriately with the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin), according to a study published in the May 9, 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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