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Women and Stroke

Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women (in comparison, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for men). Each year 55,000 more women have a stroke than men. Because in general women live longer than men, stroke will have a more negative impact on their lives. More women will:

  • Live alone when they have a stroke
  • Be more likely to live in a long term health care facility after a stroke
  • Have a worse recovery after stroke

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Common Stroke Symptoms

It is important to learn the many warning signs of a stroke so you will be able to recognize them if one or more happens to you or a loved one. Once you know the signs, it is extremely important to recognize them and get to the hospital immediately when the first symptoms appear. You may be tempted to downplay your symptoms and not want to go to the hospital.  This is normal, but instead you need to get to a hospital where experts are trained in diagnose treatment and can make the difference between life and death. 

Learn the symptoms, often called suddens. Remember that the key to identifying these symptoms is that they come on very suddenly.

SUDDEN numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

SUDDEN confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding

SUDDEN trouble seeing in one or both eyes

SUDDEN trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

SUDDEN severe headache with no known cause

Remember that every minute counts and acting FAST can save a life.

Unique Symptoms in Women

Women may report symptoms that are different from the common symptoms. They can include:

  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • General weakness
  • Difficulty or shortness of breath
  • Confusion, unresponsiveness or disorientation
  • Sudden behavioral change
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Hiccups

Unique symptoms create a problem, as they are often not recognized as a stroke symptom and treatment is often delayed. The most effective stroke treatments are only available if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within the first three hours of the first symptoms.

Unique Risk Factors in Women

One way you can improve your odds for not having a stroke is to learn about the lifestyle changes and if necessary, medications, you can take to lower your stroke risk. In addition to the general risk factors like family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, lack of exercise, and being overweight, as a woman you are faced with unique risk factors which include:

  • Taking birth control pills. The greatest concern about using oral contraceptives is for women with additional risk factors, such as age, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Being pregnant. Stroke risk increases during a normal pregnancy due to natural changes in the body such as increased blood pressure and stress on the heart.
  • Using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), a combined hormone therapy of progestin and estrogen, to relieve menopausal symptoms.
  • Suffering from migraine headaches with aura. Migraines can increase a woman's stroke risk two and a half times and most people in the U.S. who suffer migraines are women.

Stroke Prevention for Women

Each year stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer. However, this fact is widely unknown among the general public. Women are also less knowledgeable about the risk factors and don’t perceive themselves at risk for stroke.  

  • Women who experience migraines with aura and smoke are advised to stop smoking immediately.
  • Women who are pregnant should monitor their blood pressure during and after pregnancy to lower the risk of stroke.
  • Women over 75 should be screened for Atrial Fibrillation
  • Women should be screened for high blood pressure prior to starting a birth control regimen.
  • Women with concerns about high blood pressure or stroke should consult a doctor.

More women die from stroke than breast cancer

 

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