One of the leading causes of disability with more than 15 million people suffering in the entire world is stroke. Though there have been studies that have proven the gender differences in terms of occurrence of stroke in men and women, suggesting men suffering more from strokes than women, age is also a factor here. While men below the age of 85 suffer from stroke more, the incidences drastically get reversed when it comes to age above 85. Besides, men have a better and higher recovery rate post-stroke, than women.
This means that stroke in women is a serious concern and women are more likely to die from stroke. In fact, stroke is the 3rd leading cause of death for women, whereas for men, it is the 5th leading cause. Hence, you have every reason to know how stroke can impact your lives.
Here is everything you need to know about stroke in women.
What is Stroke – Why Do You Get a Stroke?
The blood supplies oxygen and nutrients to the brain and that is how the brain keeps functioning all the time. When there is a blockage or clot in the blood veins, the brain fails to receive oxygen and nutrients and that is why, the brain cells dry up. Depending on the type of cause, there are 3 types of strokes. These are –
- Haemorrhagic Stroke: Occurs when the blood vessel ruptures.
- Ischemic Stroke: Occurs when there is a blood clot in the blood vessels.
- TIA or Transient Ischemic Attack: This is also known as a mini stroke, which is caused by a temporary clot.
Women can suffer from any of these types of strokes. To make sure that the stroke is identified at an earliest, so that treatment can be offered fast, you need to know the signs and symptoms of stroke.
What Do You Need to Know to Identify Stroke in Women?
The common signs and symptoms of stroke include –
- Weakness in arms, face, legs (in general, in one side of the body)
- Difficulty to talk
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Blurred vision and difficulty in seeing (in one or both eyes).
However, these are not the only signs and symptoms of stroke for women. There are some signs and symptoms that are unique to women and knowing about them will be easier to identify, if a woman is getting a stroke. These are –
- Losing consciousness or fainting
- Troubled breathing
- Weakness all over the body.
Since these symptoms are quite difficult to associate with stroke, in case of women, it becomes difficult to diagnose whether she is suffering from a stroke or not. Often, this delays the treatment. That is why; it is a must that you call your medical advisor at once or local emergency service to report your condition.
Altered Mental Status:
In some women, odd behaviours have been reported, which are associated with stroke. These are –
- Sudden drowsiness
- Sudden behavioural change.
The altered mental status is known as a non-traditional symptom of stroke. Though both men and women experience these non-traditional stroke symptoms, 23% women stroke sufferers have reported to have experienced it, while only 15% of men have done so, which makes women 1.5 times more likely to get the non-traditional stroke symptoms. As per a 2009 study report on Acute stroke symptoms: comparing women and men, published in the US National Library of Medicine, altered mental status is found to be the most common non-traditional symptom of stroke in women.
Warning Signs of Stroke in Women
Now that you have known about the common signs and symptoms of stroke, it is important that you know about the warning signs of stroke in women. This will help you to identify if you or a loved one is going to have a stroke and thereby, seek treatment fast. To know a woman is suffering from stroke or not, you need to check “FAST”. “FAST” stands for the acronyms of –
- Face: Ask the woman to smile and check if one side of the face is drooping or not.
- Arms: Ask the woman to lift the arms and check if she is feeling weakness in the arms and fails to raise them.
- Speech: Ask the woman to talk and see if her speech is slurred and unclear or if she is facing difficulty to speak.
- Time: If you find these warning signs, do not hinder any further. It is time to call the ambulance and admit the woman to emergency medical care.
Risk Factors of Stroke in Women
While men suffer from strokes more than women before a certain age group, the common risk factors of getting a stroke are almost the same for both men and women. These are –
- Cardiovascular disease or history of stroke and heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Obesity or being overweight
- Lack of exercise or physical inactivity
- High cholesterol
- Use of drugs
- Smoking cigarettes
Here, it needs to be mentioned that age is a huge factor for suffering from stroke. Since women live longer than men, the chances of death for women after they have a stroke are also higher than men. Along with these risk factors, there are some other risk factors that increase the chances of women getting a stroke. These include –
- Atrial fibrillation after age 75
- Dependency on oral birth control pills
- Suffering from migraine with auras
- Gestational diabetes
- HRT or Hormone Replacement Therapy
- Post-menopausal hormonal use
- Mental illness.
Preventing the Risk of Stroke in Women
Though women have a higher mortality rate than men, after suffering from stroke, the good news is that with some usual preventive measures, the risk of stroke can well be reduced in women. Here are some useful preventive measures based on the common signs and symptoms of stroke in women –
- Do not engage in any risky habit or behaviour such as smoking or drinking or being exposed to tobacco smoke.
- Exercise at least for 20 minutes every day and maintain a healthy body weight.
- Keep your blood pressure under check and monitor it frequently, especially during pregnancy.
- Since blood pressure levels change significantly during pregnancy, leading to preeclampsia in some women during the late pregnancy months, monitoring blood pressure is very important as this is a major cause of stroke in women during pregnancy.
- If a woman has been pregnant previously and has had preeclampsia in the first pregnancy, she needs to consult with the doctor and continue a low dose of aspirin or other blood pressure controlling medicine to avoid the risks of stroke.
- Blood pressure must be checked and monitored regularly, if a woman is thinking of taking oral birth control pills or any other hormonal pills.
- If a woman is 75 and above, she must be checked for atrial fibrillation as the chances of stroke due to atrial fibrillation significantly increase at this age in women.
- Start a healthy diet to avoid high cholesterol level in blood as well as to avoid obesity.
- Practicing these preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of stroke in women.
Treatment of Stroke in Women
Ischemic Stroke: If the cause of stroke is a clot in the blood vessel, the doctor will give a medicine (tissue plasminogen activator tPA) to dilute the blood clot. However, this medicine has to be given within 4 hours of the first occurrence of the symptom. If it is late, this medicine would not work and in that case, the doctor will prescribe some other blood thinners to get rid of the clot.
Haemorrhagic Stroke: If the cause of the stroke is a ruptured blood vessel, the doctor will prescribe aneurysm or a surgery and medicines to keep the blood pressure low.
Recovery from Stroke in Women
Women have a high mortality rate than men, after stroke. Even if a woman survives a stroke, the recovery is slower than men. She is likely to experience fatigue, depression, mental impairment and other stroke related disabilities during this phase.
So, it is always advised that the diagnosis is made as early as possible, without ignoring the signs and symptoms and rush to the emergency section of the hospital to seek treatment before it is too late.
- What Can Cause Brief Loss of Consciousness and is it a Sign of Stroke?
- Acute Ischemic Stroke: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment- Anticoagulants, Corticosteroids
- Detecting Stroke: Can You Feel a Stroke Coming On?
- Can You Get Stroke in Your Eye? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment of Eye Stroke
- Silent Stroke: What You Need to Know