Each year, 55,000 more women have a stroke than men, according to The National Stroke Association. Having a stroke impacts a person’s physical and emotional well-being, and may present lifetime challenges. Eighty percent of all strokes in the United States can be prevented. Understanding the unique risks for women can help prevent this dangerous diagnosis.
Women and Stroke
Why are women more susceptible to strokes? Kelley Joseph, neuroscience coordinator, ProMedica Stroke Network, says that women are less likely to seek emergency treatment for health issues in general.
“Women frequently disregard symptoms and, instead, continue on with their daily routine, including taking care of others,” she says. “Many women often serve as a health advocate for their partners, children or older parents, but lack someone to advocate for those issues on their behalf.
In addition, women are also affected by unique risk factors. Although rare, stroke can affect women during childbearing years. Pregnancy and the postpartum period can present increased risk of ischemic stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage. There are several causes of stroke that are in fact unique to pregnancy and the postpartum period, such as preeclampsia and eclampsia, amniotic fluid embolism, postpartum angiopathy, and postpartum cardiomyopathy.
Joseph says that unfortunately, there isn’t much data regarding these particular conditions. Most concerning is the lack of data regarding both prevention and management of pregnancy-related stroke.
How Women Can Reduce Their Risk
Joseph explains that some of the common risk factors for stroke mirror those for risk of heart disease. While risk factors such as genetic history, race and age cannot be changed, other factors such as high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and obesity can be addressed through lifestyle modifications such as diet, exercise and medication compliance.
“Making healthier food choices, staying physically active and eliminating habits such as smoking and excessive drinking are possible ways to reduce the risk for stroke,” says Joseph.
When Stroke Happens, BE FAST
Recognizing a stroke as it’s happening is an important line of defense. But women may have a hard time knowing when it’s happening. “Stroke is an emergency but it doesn’t hurt, so symptoms are often ignored and treatment is not sought,” says Joseph.
Using the acronym BE FAST can help you catch the warning signs of stroke:
Balance: The severe, sudden onset of balance problems and a lack of voluntary muscle movement may indicate that your loved one is experiencing a stroke.
Eyes and Vision: Unusual trouble with sight in one or both eyes is a warning sign that someone may be having a stroke.
Face Drooping: Another common warning sign of stroke is face numbness or tingling. Ask the person to smile and check to see if their face is crooked or uneven. If it is, this may indicate they are experiencing a stroke.
Arm Weakness or Leg Numbness: Similar to the face drooping warning sign, someone experiencing a stroke may feel weak or numb on one side of the body. Sudden onset of neurological deficits, especially weakness, numbness, or tingling of extremities is a clear warning sign of stroke.
Speech Difficulty: If someone is having trouble getting their words out or understanding another person’s words, it could indicate the start of a stroke. Be mindful of slurred or garbled speech.
Time to Call 9-1-1: Even if symptoms appear temporarily, be sure to call 9-1-1 immediately and pay attention to the clock. You’ll need to know the time the symptoms first appeared.
If you are experiencing symptoms of stroke, seek treatment in the emergency room of a primary stroke center. Primary stroke centers are committed to timely and quality stroke care, recognize the emergency and positively impact outcomes by offering stroke rescue procedures such as t-PA, the clot busting drug and mechanical therapy such as an embolectomy.
Joseph says that the greatest barrier to eliminating a stroke’s devastating impact on a woman is time: “Time is brain, meaning the quicker the brain regains circulation or blood flow, the greater the chance an improved or complete recovery can be achieved.”