High blood pressure
High blood pressure (when your blood pumps too forcefully through your veins) is often called a silent killer. That’s because most people who have it don’t have symptoms, even though the disorder is damaging the heart, kidneys, blood vessels and brain.
Seven percent of women between ages 20 and 34 have high blood pressure. While the rate may seem low, the big issue is that young adults are far less likely to be diagnosed and treated for the condition. If left untreated, high blood pressure can result in heart disease later in life and is the leading cause of strokes. In fact, just keeping your blood pressure in check reduces your risk of stroke by 48 percent.
Pregnancy may give you a preview of your risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. If you have preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), you have a much greater chance of having high blood pressure and heart problems later on. Michos explains, “Pregnancy is like a stress test for your body. If you develop complications, it’s a sign that there may be health issues that will re-emerge afterward.”
Type 2 diabetes
You could have diabetes and not even know it. That’s the case for an estimated 3.1 million women in the United States, who likely don’t know they have the disease because they haven’t noticed any symptoms.
Obesity is a leading risk factor for diabetes. Younger generations — even children — have much higher rates of obesity than ever before. Because of that, it is on the rise, says Michos. “Type 2 diabetes and the obesity epidemic are driven by the ways many people live these days. We consume more calories, sweet beverages and fast food, and spend far too much time sitting.”
Hispanic, African-American and Native American women have to be especially careful when it comes to factors that contribute to type 2 diabetes. That’s because they are up to four times more likely to develop the condition. Developing type 2 diabetes also puts women more at risk for heart disease.
You can also experience a form of the disease called gestational diabetes during pregnancy. If you do, you’re 20 to 50 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at a later point. This means it’s crucial to be screened for the disease more often after delivery.
While the majority of strokes occur in people over the age of 65, a recent study found a 32 percent spike in strokes among women ages 18 to 34. This sudden rise is concerning, Michos says. “Although it’s less common for younger women to have strokes, when they do it’s more likely to be fatal.”
What’s behind the increase? Risk factors for cardiovascular disease — high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking — have doubled in millennial women. Your risk is also higher than a man your age if you’re pregnant or take birth control pills, both of which can slightly increase your chance of stroke. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, which are more common in women, are linked to a much greater risk for stroke, too.