About 800,000 Americans have a stroke each year. A stroke occurs when a blood clot or a ruptured vessel cuts off blood flow to your brain. Every year, approximately 130,000 people die from stroke-related complications. This includes developing blood clots or catching pneumonia.
Although men are more likely to have a stroke, women have a higher lifetime risk. Women are also more likely to die from a stroke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five American women will have a stroke, and nearly 60 percent will die from the attack. Stroke is considered to be the third leading cause of death for women.
There are many reasons women face a greater chance of having a stroke: They live longer, experience more stress, and are more likely to have high blood pressure. Pregnancy and birth control also increase a woman’s risk of stroke.
The more you know about the symptoms of stroke in women, the better you’ll be able to get help. Quick treatment can mean the difference between disability and recovery.
Women may report symptoms not often associated with strokes in men. These can include:
- nausea or vomiting
- trouble breathing
- fainting or loss of consciousness
- general weakness
Because these symptoms are unique to women, it may be difficult to immediately connect them to stroke. This can delay treatment, which may hinder recovery.
If you’re a woman and unsure whether your symptoms are that of a stroke, you should still call your local emergency services. Once paramedics arrive on the scene, they can assess your symptoms and begin treatment, if needed.
Odd behaviors, such as sudden drowsiness, can also indicate a stroke. Clinicians call these symptoms “altered mental status.”
These symptoms include:
- sudden behavioral change
Researchers in a 2009 study found that altered mental status was the most common nontraditional symptom. About 23 percent of women and 15 percent of men reported altered mental status related to stroke. Although both men and women can be affected, women are about 1.5 times more likely to report at least one nontraditional stroke symptom.
Many symptoms of stroke are experienced by both men and women. Stroke is often characterized by an inability to speak or understand speech, a strained expression, and confusion.
The five most common symptoms of a stroke are:
- sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- sudden numbness or weakness of your face, arm, and leg, most likely on one side of your body
- sudden trouble speaking or understanding, confusion
- sudden and severe headache with no known cause
- sudden dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination
Research shows that women often fare better at correctly identifying the signs of a stroke. Researchers in a 2003 study found that 90 percent of women, compared to 85 percent of men, knew that trouble speaking or sudden confusion are signs of stroke.
The study also revealed that the majority of both women and men fail to name all symptoms correctly, or when emergency services should be called. Only 18 percent of all participants aced the survey.
The National Stroke Association developed an easy strategy for identifying stroke symptoms. If you think you or someone around you may be having a stroke, you should Act FAST.
|F||FACE||Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?|
|A||ARMS||Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?|
|S||SPEECH||Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?|
|T||TIME||If you observe any of these symptoms, it’s time to call 911 or your local emergency services immediately.|
When it comes to a stroke, every minute counts. The longer you wait to call your local emergency services, the more likely it is that the stroke will result in brain damage or disability.
Although your initial reaction may be to drive yourself to the hospital, you should stay where you are. Call your local emergency services as soon as you notice symptoms and wait for them to arrive. They can provide immediate medical attention that you would be unable to receive if you were to forego the ambulance.
After arriving at the hospital, a doctor will assess your symptoms and medical history. They’ll perform a physical exam and other diagnostic tests before making a diagnosis.
Options for treatment depend on the type of stroke.
If the stroke was ischemic — the most common type — it means that a blood clot cut off blood flow to your brain. Your doctor will administer a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) medication to bust the clot.
This medication must be administered within four hours of the first symptom’s appearance in order to be effective. If you are unable to take tPA, your doctor will administer a blood thinner or other anticoagulant medication to stop platelets from forming clots.
Other treatment options include surgery or other invasive procedures that break up clots or unblock arteries.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in your brain ruptures or leaks blood. Doctors treat this type of stroke differently than an ischemic stroke.
For example, if you had a hemorrhagic stroke because of:
- an aneurysm, your doctor may suggest surgery to block blood flow to the aneurysm
- high blood pressure, your doctor administers medicine that will lower your blood pressure and reduce bleeding
- faulty arteries and ruptured veins, your doctor may recommend arteriovenous malformation repair to prevent any additional bleeding
Treatment for women vs. men
Research has revealed that women receive poorer emergency treatment compared to men. Researchers in a 2010 study found that women typically wait longer to be seen after arriving at the ER.
Once admitted, women may receive less intensive care and therapeutic workup. It’s theorized that this could be because of the nontraditional symptoms some women experience, which can delay a stroke diagnosis.
Studies show that women who survive strokes usually recover more slowly than men.
Women are also more likely to experience:
- stroke-related disability
- impaired daily living activities
- mental impairment
- poorer quality of life
This may be due to low pre-stroke physical activity or depressive symptoms.
Each year, twice as many women die from stroke as they do breast cancer. That’s why it’s important to remain vigilant about your health. To help prevent a future stroke, you can:
- eat a balanced diet
- maintain a healthy weight
- get regular exercise
- quit smoking
- take up a hobby, such as knitting or yoga, to help better manage stress
Women should also take added precautions because of the unique risk factors they face. This means:
- monitoring blood pressure during and after pregnancy
- screening for atrial fibrillation if over 75 years old
- screening for high blood pressure before starting birth control
Stroke recovery can vary from person to person. Physical therapy may be able to help you relearn any lost skills. Some people may be able to relearn how to walk or talk within a matter of months. Others may need more time to recover.
During this time, it’s important to stay on track with rehabilitation and maintain or develop a healthy lifestyle. In addition to aiding your recovery, this may help prevent future strokes.