Signs of Stroke in Women

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By Maria Wright, MD, NCMP
Lisa Larkin, MD & Associates / Ms.Medicine Cincinnati

Did you know that strokes are more common in women compared to men? In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in five women will have a stroke in her lifetime.

Even more concerning is that women tend to experience less noticeable signs of a stroke than men. Because of this, they are less likely to seek medical help – and when they do, they may not receive a stroke diagnosis.

Help protect your health by understanding the signs of stroke and reducing your risk factors.

Less common signs of a stroke
Many of us have heard of “FAST.” This simple acronym highlights the most common stroke symptoms:

        • Face – One side of the face is drooping
        • Arms – Inability to raise one arm and keep it raised
        • Speech – Speech is slurred
        • Time – A reminder to get treatment quickly to reduce your risk of more serious complications

However, women are more likely to experience uncommon signs of a mild stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA). These minor strokes don’t cause permanent damage to the brain but do put you at higher risk of having more strokes or a heart attack.

Symptoms women may experience during a minor stroke include:

        • Balance, walking or coordination problems
        • Confusion
        • Fatigue
        • Nausea
        • Memory loss
        • Sleepiness
        • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
        • Vision changes

Reduce your stroke risk
Women have a few unique risk factors that make them more likely than men to have a stroke:

        • The risk of stroke increases as you age, and women tend to live longer than men.
        • Pregnancy also puts women at a higher risk of stroke.
        • Some medications – including birth control – may also increase your risk of stroke.

Other risk factors include:

        • High blood pressure
        • Mental health issues
        • Unhealthy weight
        • Diabetes

While you can’t control all these risk factors, there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk of stroke.

        • Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure is the number one cause of a stroke. Be sure you have your blood pressure checked at least once a year – at the very least. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor might ask to see you more regularly and have you check your blood pressure at home.
        • Eat healthy. A diet that focuses on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat diary and lean protein can help you control your blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke.
        • Limit alcohol. Alcohol can raise your blood pressure, which again puts you at risk of a stroke. Drink in moderation.
        • Stop using tobacco. Smoking puts you at a greater risk of developing a stroke (and heart disease).
          Maintain a healthy weight. Talk to your doctor about a healthy approach to lose weight and keep it off.
        • Exercise more. An active lifestyle can help you reduce your risk of stroke, improve your heart health, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your mental health.

If you are concerned about your risk of experiencing a stroke, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. We’re here to help you take control of your health.

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