You may know the classic stroke symptoms, but did you know that for women those stroke symptoms can be different? Unfortunately, strokes are the third leading cause of death for women, compared to it being the fifth leading cause of death for men. It’s important to guard yourself with information and know the symptoms and how to be proactive to reduce your chances.
What Are the Most Common Stroke Symptoms?
By knowing the symptoms of a stroke ahead of time, you will be more apt to catch it early so you can get help for you or a loved one. Once you recognize a sign, it’s time for immediate action. Many people think their symptoms could be something else, but it’s better not to second guess and to simply seek medical help. Be on the lookout for:
- sudden confusion, understanding, or difficulty speaking
- sudden trouble seeing out of both or even just one eye
- sudden numbness or weak face, leg, and arm (especially if it’s one-sided)
- sudden and severe headache with no cause
Symptoms Unique to Women
Women can have the classic symptoms, but they also usually experience unique symptoms. With such unique symptoms, it can lead to a problem as they aren’t often recognized as a stroke symptom. It’s vital to understand these symptoms as a woman because the most effective treatment for stroke is within the first three hours:
- general weakness
- fainting or loss of consciousness
- disorientation, unresponsiveness, or confusion
- sudden behavioral change
- nausea and/or Vomiting
- loss of balance
- trouble speaking
A Woman’s Stroke Risk and Why It’s Higher
According to UTSouthwestern Medical Center, women usually live longer than men; however, their risk for stroke is higher. The risk increases with age, leaving women more vulnerable to a stroke. Aside from age, other risk factors for women include:
Preeclampsia and Eclampsia - According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, women who have had preeclampsia in the past have three to four times the risk of having high blood pressure, along with double the risk for stroke and heart disease. It’s unknown whether the risk is due to having preeclampsia or if the woman was initially predisposed to heart disease. This doesn’t mean each woman who experiences preeclampsia will have a stroke, it just raises the risk. It’s ideal to make healthy lifestyle modifications to reduce your risk and talk it over with your doctor.
Postmenopasual Changes - As you age, the risk for vascular disease increases and some conditions that appear after menopause can ramp up that risk. High blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol are some of those conditions.
Migraines with Aura - Having this condition can more than double a woman’s chance of having a stroke. During a study, the findings saw that with the presence of an aura migraine, the risk of ischemic stroke had doubled, in comparison to the cases of migraine without aura did not. The link between ischemic stroke seems solid, but studies are still underway.
Hypertension - Having high blood pressure is one of the common, but treatable, risk factors for a stroke and heart disease. Hypertension can develop for various reasons. Try to reduce stress levels. According to American Heart Association and their Go Red for Women national movement, stress has a major impact on heart health. Also, eat healthy, exercise, and always keep checkups with your doctor to make sure your blood pressure stays healthy. Keep an eye on it at home, too, so you can catch any changes early. If you are prescribed medicine, always take your proper dose.
Cerebrovascular Disorders - Women are more at risk for subarachnoid hemorrhage and aneurysms. These are risk factors for a stroke.
Atrial Fibrillation - Women in general will have an increased rate of atrial fibrillation. Having this puts a woman at a major risk for large embolic strokes. Anyone with AFib will have a five times greater risk for experiencing a stroke.
Stroke Prevention for Women
There are several ways you can decrease your chances of encountering a stroke. Even if you do everything possible to lower your chances, you should still remember the warning signs as nothing is 100 percent effective. However, making these changes can help to protect you.
Keep your Blood Pressure in Check - Having high blood pressure is a major factor when it comes to strokes. In fact, it can double or even quadruple your risk if it’s not controlled. It’s important to ensure you blood pressure stays under 135/85. However, for some people, it may be okay to stay under 140/90, depending on your situation and doctor recommendations. You can do this by minimizing the amount of salt you use (aim for less than 1,500 mg per day), staying away from fast food like burgers and other high cholesterol foods, consuming around 4 or 5 cups of vegetables and fruit every day, avoiding smoking, and making sure you’re physically active at least 30 minutes per day.
Try to Lose Weight - If you are considered overweight or obese, it can be linked to diabetes and high blood pressure, which will increase your risk of a stroke. Even by losing 10 pounds, you can significantly decrease your risk of a stroke. Your doctor can help you determine a healthy goal weight and BMI.
Get Active - Exercise can help not only to drop pounds and lower blood pressure, but also can help by itself to reduce the risk of a stroke. Try to exercise at least five days per week at moderate intensity.
Drink in Moderation - If you drink alcohol once per day, you can decrease your risk of having a stroke, but once you start having more than two drinks each day, your risk will greatly increase.
Manage or Treat Diabetes - Having high blood sugar can damage blood vessels over time, which leads to blood clot formation. Work out a plan with your doctor to monitor your blood sugar, eat the proper food, exercise, and be sure to take all prescribed medication. Once you are stable with your blood sugar, your risk of a stroke can go down.
Treat Atrial Fibrillation - If you experience shortness of breath or heart palpitations, contact your doctor for an exam. If you get prescribed medication, be sure to take it as directed. You can decrease your risk of a stroke by treating this condition.
Avoid Smoking - When you smoke, your body can accelerate clot formation in several ways. Smoking thickens your blood and increases plaque buildup in your arteries. Not only are you helping yourself, but you are also reducing the risk of giving other people health issues around you by breathing in the cigarette smoke. Speak with your doctor to see if you can find a way to quit that’s suitable for you. Always know the warning signs of a stroke for both men and women, but remember that women can have unique symptoms. The sooner you or a loved one is able to get treatment from a stroke, the better the outcome can be.
If you feel that you are at risk for a stroke and want to find solutions, request an appointment with The Woman’s Clinic to talk with a professional.