Symptoms of Stroke in Women
Women and Stroke
Every year, about 425,000 women experience a stroke. And nearly 77,000 women die from causes related to strokes. Annually, 55,000 more women than men experience stroke, and women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men.
The more you know about the symptoms of stroke in women, the better you’ll be able to get help for a victim. Quick treatment can mean the difference between disability and recovery.
Click through the slideshow to learn more about the symptoms of stroke in women.
The Classic Symptoms
If any of these five symptoms appear suddenly, you may be having a stroke:
- numbness or weakness of the arm, face, or leg, especially on just one side of the body
- confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding speech
- trouble seeing in one eye or both
- trouble walking, loss of balance, lack of coordination or dizziness
- severe headache without a known cause
All of these symptoms are seen in both men and women.
Symptoms Seen in Women
Women may report symptoms not often associated with strokes in men. The National Stroke Association reports seven additional symptoms unique to women. These are:
- sudden face and limb pain
- sudden hiccups
- sudden nausea
- sudden general weakness
- sudden chest pain
- sudden shortness of breath
- sudden palpitations
If you are confused by the similarity of symptoms such as chest pain to a heart attack, don’t worry. Call 911 to get paramedics on the scene to begin treatment. They need to get to work whether it’s a heart attack or a stroke that is in progress.
Look for “Altered Mental Status”
If a woman displays odd behaviors, such as sudden drowsiness, this can also indicate a stroke. Clinicians call these symptoms “altered mental status.” Symptoms also include:
- sudden behavioral change
Epidemiologists at the University of Michigan Hospital reported in 2009 that altered mental status was the most prevalent nontraditional symptom, affecting 23 percent of women and 15 percent of men.
The Significance of Nontraditional Symptoms
The problem with unusual symptoms, especially with women, is that they can delay treatment. Often the stroke victim, unable to help herself, relies on bystanders for assistance.
Delays in getting to a hospital cost the stroke patient vital minutes. The victim needs to begin tests as soon as possible to see if a stroke has occurred. The sooner the victim is tested, the sooner the clinicians can administer treatment with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). This product can break blood clots in the brain.
Women Aware of Symptoms
American women tend to be slightly more likely than men to know the five main symptoms of stroke, including numbness and confusion. For example, 90 percent of women, compared to 85 percent of men, know that sudden confusion or trouble speaking is a symptom of stroke.
But both men and women fall down a bit on correctly naming all five major symptoms, as well as knowing to call 911 right away. Only 18 percent aced the survey.
Improvement Over Time
International surveys find the same situation. A literature review in the International Journal of Stroke looked at 22 published studies. All found better stroke symptom awareness in women, but called knowledge in both sexes “suboptimal.”
Still, knowledge is expanding. In 1995, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, surveyed households around Cincinnati. Fifty-seven percent of respondents could name at least one symptom of stroke. In 2000, that figure was up to 70 percent.
Applying Your Knowledge
It helps to know the five classic signs of a stroke so that you can help others. If you observe someone in distress, you’ll be able to help, even if they are unable to communicate what they are experiencing.
A race to the hospital can prove life saving, so don’t ignore even mild-seeming symptoms like double vision, dropping your keys repeatedly, hiccups, or leg pain.
- Go, A.S. (2013). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2014 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 127, e6-e245. Retrieved January 13, 2014, from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/12/18/01.cir.0000441139.02102.80.full.pdf+html
- Greenlund, K. (2003). Low Public Recognition Of Major Stroke Symptoms. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 25(4), 315-319. Retrieved January 13, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14580633
- Leong, L., Jian, K., Vasu, A., & Seow, E. (2008, September 24). Prospective study of patients with altered mental status: clinical features and outcome. International Journal of Emergency Medicine, 1(3), 179-182. Retrieved January 13, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2657274/
- Lisabeth, L.D., Brown, D.L., Hughes, R., Majersik, J.J., & Morgenstern, L.B. (2009). Acute Stroke Symptoms: Comparing Women And Men. Stroke, 40(6), 2031-2036. Retrieved January 12, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19228858
- Signs of a stroke. (2009, February 1). Womenshealth.gov. Retrieved January 13, 2014, from http://womenshealth.gov/heart-health-stroke/signs-of-a-stroke/ - pubs
- Stroebele, N. (2011). Knowledge of risk factors, and warning signs of stroke: a systematic review from a gender perspective. International Journal of Stroke, 1, 60-66. Retrieved January 12, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21205242
- Women and Stroke: Unique Symptoms in Women. (2010, May 1). National Stroke Association. Retrieved January 13, 2014, from http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=womsymp