Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in America and the leading cause of adult long-term disability. An estimated 6.8 million Americans are living after having a stroke. Women are at a greater risk of stroke with 55,000 more women having a stroke each year than men. Women are also more adversely affected by stroke due to their longer life expectancy. They are more likely to be living alone when they have a stroke, and more likely to live in a long-term care facility after the stroke. By bringing awareness to stroke symptoms and risk factors and implementing strategies for stroke prevention for women, we can identify women at higher risk and help prevent future strokes.
Signs of a Stroke
A stroke is an injury to the brain caused by a disruption of blood flow to the brain cells. When a blood vessel becomes blocked or bursts, oxygen-rich blood is unable to reach a portion of the brain and brain cells begin to die. A stroke is a life-threatening condition that requires you to recognize the signs and act fast!
Common Signs or Symptoms of a Stroke
Weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg (usually on one side)
Difficulty speaking or swallowing
Loss of balance or coordination
Confusion or decreased alertness
Severe headache or dizziness
Change in vision
Unique Symptoms for Women
Symptoms may present differently in women, making it more difficult to recognize a stroke is occurring and often delaying treatment. In addition to the above-mentioned signs, other reported symptoms in women include:
Loss of consciousness or fainting
Difficulty of shortness of breath
Confusion, unresponsiveness or disorientation
Sudden behavioral change
Nausea or vomiting
Take action immediately and call 911 if you suspect a stroke. Early recognition and rapid treatment are critical to improved outcomes and survival of stroke.
Common Risk Factors
High blood pressure is the number one cause of stroke. Other medical risk factors include Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), high cholesterol, diabetes and blood circulation problems. Lifestyle risk factors include poor diet and nutrition, lack of adequate physical activity, tobacco use and smoking, and alcohol consumption.
Uncontrollable stroke risk factors, like age, family history and other medical conditions, cannot be changed, but being aware of them can help determine your overall risk for stroke.
Risk Factors for Women
Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer, yet women are often less knowledgeable about their unique stroke risk factors. According to the National Stroke Association, the following scenarios increase a woman’s stroke risk.
- Taking oral contraceptives – The primary concern is for women who already have additional risk factors, such as age, smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Being pregnant – Natural changes in the body, such as increased blood pressure and stress on the heart, can increase stroke risk.
- Using Hormone Replacement Therapy – A combination of progestin and estrogen used to relieve menopausal symptoms.
- Suffering from migraine headaches with aura – Stroke risk is increased 2.5 times for women with migraines.
Strokes can happen to anyone at any time. However, up to 80% of strokes are preventable. Simple changes to your lifestyle and addressing certain medical concerns with medications and special diets can help lower your risk of stroke.
Stroke Prevention for Women
Women often don’t perceive themselves at risk for stroke. Women should consult a doctor with any stroke risk concerns and implement these stroke prevention strategies.
- Women who smoke and experience migraines with auras should stop smoking immediately.
- Women over 75 should be screen for AFib.
- Women should get screened for high blood pressure before starting on birth control.
- Women who are pregnant should monitor their blood pressure during and after pregnancy.
To learn more about responding to stroke and other medical emergencies, find an Instructor near you to get CPR, AED and First Aid certified.