Despite what many have commonly assumed, men are not the only ones at risk of a stroke. Though men are more likely to have a stroke and often engage in the risky habits that cause them, like drinking and smoking, women are still more likely to die of a stroke. In fact, this condition is the third leading cause of death for women. According to the National Stroke Association, 55,000 more women die of a stroke than men each year. Furthermore, the gap is widening. Some of this increased risk is attributed to women’s longer average life span, but there are other factors that are more important.
Strokes result in the deadly loss of oxygen and blood in the brain. This often kills brain cells. This loss of oxygen and blood is often caused by blood clots and other blockages in the veins. Doctors characterize different types of strokes based on what causes them. Strokes caused by ruptured blood vessels are called hemorrhagic strokes. Others caused by blood clots are known as ischemic strokes. A temporary blood clot causes a “mini-stroke,” referred to as a transient ischemic attack. TIAs, or mini-strokes, are often not life-threatening in their own right, but they are a red flag that you might be in need of attention. They may be an indicator that you are at risk of a major stroke down the line. Since TIAs only last for a few minutes to an hour, they often go unnoticed. If you experience the symptoms, call 911 immediately.
Stroke Risk Factors Specific to Women
In evaluating the risk factors for strokes, there are general risk factors that apply to both men and women, and there are sex-specific ones that especially impact the female population. The general risk factors that apply to both sexes are:
- Cardiovascular disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Insufficient exercise
- Drug use, including tobacco
Outside of these general risk factors, women are disproportionately impacted by these sex-specific risk factors:
- Taking oral birth control
- Migraines with auras
- Hormone Replacement Therapy
Sadly, even though a few of these are experienced by men, they do not increase the risk of strokes like they do for women.
Stroke Symptoms Specific To Women
When assessing stroke symptoms, there are also general and sex-specific stroke symptoms. The most common general symptoms affecting everyone include:
- Feeling numb
- Sudden confusion
- Vision problems
- Dizziness and weakness
There are sex-specific stroke symptoms experienced by women in particular. Keep your eye out for:
- Behavior changes
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
If these feel like too many symptoms to memorize, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have come up with an easy acronym: FAST. Remembering FAST will help you identify potential stroke symptoms and act quickly. FAST stands for:
- F – Face Drooping
- A – Arm Weakness
- S – Speech Difficulty
- T – Time to call 911.
Ways For Women To Prevent Strokes
As science progresses, we increasingly better understand what causes strokes to take place. So we don’t have any excuses not to act now. One of the best decisions you can make is to avoid smoking and drinking. But there are other helpful tips for preventing strokes in women:
- Make sure you’re effectively managing your stress.
- Try to get exercise in every day.
- Watch the severity of your headaches, especially if they get worse.
- If you get pregnant or take birth control, watch your blood pressure.
- Check your cholesterol and get tested for diabetes.
- Be watchful of your mental health, especially sudden mood changes.
What Happens When You Have A Stroke?
If you have a stroke, the single most important way to limit the damage is early detection. Knowing the warning signs and thinking FAST can help you avoid the worst effects. The aftermath of a stroke can be terrible. Many are unable to do things they once found easy, especially speaking and remembering, while others suffer paralysis or personality changes. All of these can be mitigated somewhat by early detection.
Depending on where they take place, strokes have specific effects. If the right side of the brain is hit with a stroke, the patient suffers problems with judgment, depth perception and memory. If the left side of the brain suffers a stroke, speech, language, and memory are especially impacted. If the stroke is in the cerebellum, the reflexes and ability to maintain balance are affected.
For many stroke survivors, the recovery period is very difficult. Many are unable to care for themselves as they once could and require assistance and rehabilitation therapy to restore basic functions. In addition, the unhealthy habits that led to a stroke have to be eliminated to avoid an even deadlier stroke taking place.
The increased risk for women makes it essential to be mindful of the risks. Refer to this article and other resources to be proactive in minimizing this risk. Most importantly, talk to your doctor about any of the warning signs and take the recommended steps. A stroke can permanently change your life for the worse, and the responsibility is yours to be proactive.
Make sure to SHARE these life-saving health tips with the people you love.
H/T: The Hearty Soul