When it comes strokes, people often equate their occurrence with men; however, the truth is that they effect more women than men, which makes them the third leading cause of death for women. In fact, while approximately 795,000 people suffer from a stroke each year, almost 60% of those will be women, with stroke killing 2x as many women as breast cancer. What's really frightening is that most women fail to realize how at-risk they may be.
While it’s easy to spout these statistics, my purpose is not to frighten but rather to provoke thought, especially if we consider the fact that 80% of strokes are preventable. In short, women tend to be more adversely affected by stroke—in many cases because they live longer than men—yet are often less aware of their risk factors.
Therefore, whether you’re taking care of yourself or looking out for a loved one, it’s extremely important to recognize the standard warning signs, as well as the ones unique to women. The majority of the most common symptoms occur very suddenly, so while it may be tempting to brush them off or downplay their severity, your long-term health—and possibly your life—depend upon rapid treatment.
SYMPTOMS UNIQUE TO WOMEN:While some of these indicators appear to go hand-in-hand with several of the more commonly accepted warning signs, many present a problem because a large majority of them are not recognized as stroke symptoms. Plain and simple, the most effective treatments are only available if the signs are recognized within the first three hours, so understanding those unique to women is imperative.
Women also have a myriad of risk factors that separate them from men, so if you or someone you know is pregnant, using hormone replacement therapy (HRT), taking birth control pills, or regularly suffers from migraine headaches with aura (headache which may include vision abnormalities such as blind spots, hallucinations, or seeing flashing lights or zigzag patterns), they may be at a higher risk than the general population.
With that being said, as previously mentioned, a large majority of strokes for both women and men are preventable, so it’s important to ask questions if you’re concerned about your risk factors. If you’d like to know more, please feel free to contact our office for additional information.
Dr. Joseph J. Ricotta II MD, MS, FACS
Vascular Institute of Atlanta