Women are notorious for ignoring their own health issues and putting the needs of others first. But when it comes to identifying the signs of stroke, it’s important to pay attention to the symptoms and act quickly.
One in 5 women in the U.S. is at risk of having a stroke—the No. 4 cause of death in women, according to the American Stroke Association. Women have unique risk factors that can lead to a greater chance of stroke, including pregnancy, use of oral contraceptives and menopause. Women of color have the highest prevalence of stroke.
“Women definitely tend to not take the symptoms of stroke as seriously as they should,” says Kimberly Gannon, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Program and physician executive of Neurosciences Service Line at ChristianaCare. “Women over age 80 are actually at higher risk of stroke than men, mainly because they live longer and are at greater risk for high blood pressure as they age. Younger women are at greater risk of stroke around the times of hormonal changes in their lives.”
Gannon, a vascular neurologist, stresses, “The warning signs of stroke are not as obvious as the crushing chest pain you may experience with a heart attack, but time lost is brain lost when you’re dealing with stroke.”
An easy way to identify the risks of stroke is by remembering the acronym F.A.S.T. If you experience Face drooping, Arm weakness or Speech difficulty, it’s Time to call 911. Additional symptoms may include sudden confusion, such as difficulty understanding what someone is saying; difficulty walking; sudden dizziness or loss of coordination; difficulty seeing in one or both eyes; and sudden, severe headache.
The two main categories of stroke are ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs due to a blood clot that prevents blood from flowing to your brain. A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by bleeding in the brain. About 87% of all strokes are ischemic.
The good news is that most strokes can be prevented.
“Many risk factors for stroke are modifiable,” Gannon says. “A healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and keeping your blood pressure under control can significantly reduce your risk of stroke. Even small changes, like using the stairs instead of the elevator or walking during your lunch break, can make a big difference in your overall health.”