During National Women’s Health Week, Learn About Women and Stroke
May 9 – 15 is National Women’s Health Week, and the entire month of May is Stroke Awareness Month. This is a good time to look at some of the stroke prevention, diagnosis and treatment issues that are unique to women.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to any part of the brain is reduced or cut off entirely. Strokes may be caused by a blood clot blocking an artery which supplies blood to the brain. Or, they may be caused by bleeding in the brain through a ruptured artery. Strokes can cause difficulty in moving, memory problems, trouble speaking and understanding language, paralysis and death. Each year, close to 900,000 people in the U.S. die from the effect of stroke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that women have more strokes than men, and women make up more than half of stroke deaths. Yet many women think of stroke as something that happens to men. They may not realize that stroke is the third leading cause of death for women, taking the lives of twice as many women as breast cancer each year.
Experts say women also are less likely to be aware of the signs of stroke, and those signs might be slightly different. This can cause a delay in recognizing the symptoms of stroke, or calling 9-1-1 to seek the immediate treatment that gives them the best chance of surviving and successfully recovering.
These are signs of stroke that both men and women might experience:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, loss of balance, dizziness, or lack of coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Some experts report that women may also experience chest pain and hiccups—which might make them think they are experiencing heart disease or indigestion.
If you or someone else experiences one or more symptoms of stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. Every minute counts! Patients who arrive at the emergency room within three hours of their first symptoms are on average healthier three months after a stroke than those whose care was delayed. So don’t wait, even if the symptoms seem to be subsiding. And don’t drive yourself. In most cases, it’s best to wait for the ambulance to arrive so paramedics can begin treatment on the way to the hospital.
Know the risk factors
Stroke can happen at any age. In fact, 25% happen in people younger than 65. But the risk does increase with age. Other risk factors include a family history of stroke, smoking, high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes. Women also should be aware of female-specific stroke risk factors, such as pregnancy-related diabetes, preeclampsia of pregnancy, hormonal changes, and taking hormone-containing medications such as oral birth control and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Stroke prevention tips for women
The CDC says that 4 in 5 strokes can be prevented. Here are seven prevention tips:
- Quit smoking and vaping.
- Eat a healthy diet, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Get enough exercise.
- Reduce stress.
- Follow your healthcare provider’s advice if you have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or cholesterol, or other chronic conditions.
- Talk to your doctor about the medications you take.
Another way to reduce the risk of severe, long-lasting effects of stroke is to learn the location of the nearest hospital with a 24-hour stroke center. That way, if you do experience a stroke, treatment can begin right away. And studies show that women stroke survivors are less likely than men to take part in a stroke rehabilitation program—yet this can help them regain skills and abilities and learn to cope with any remaining limitations.
The information in this article is not intended to take the place of your healthcare provider’s advice. Discuss your stroke risk and stroke prevention with your doctor. If you or someone else is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, call 9-1-1 right away.