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.
Unlike men, women don’t always get noticeable signs. As a result, they are not apt to seek medical help. And when they do, they may not be able to give their medical professional enough information about symptoms, so they may not receive a stroke diagnosis.
Common signs of a stroke
Part of appropriate treatment is knowing the range of signs. Some can be obvious, but many others are subtle and so, are not well known.
FAST is an acronym that helps people remember the most common stroke symptoms:
Face – One side of the face droops (facial paralysis).
Arms – Inability to raise one arm and keep it raised.
Speech – Slurred speech.
Time – Respond quickly to prevent condition from becoming more serious.
Uncommon signs of stroke
According to Healthline, “Women are about 1.5 times more likely [than men] to report at least one nontraditional stroke symptom.” Women tend to experience mild strokes, also known as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) more than men as well. These rarely cause permanent damage to the brain but do put individuals at a higher risk of stroke or heart attack.
Symptoms women may experience while experiencing a stroke can include some or all mentioned in the following list. A brief description of is provided for your information.
- Altered mental status – This is the most common sign in women. It can be experienced as drowsiness, unresponsiveness, disorientation, confusion, sudden behavioral change, agitation, and hallucination. Other symptoms may contribute to a person’s mental orientation.
- Balance, walking or coordination problems – This can exhibit as difficulty walking, maintaining balance, or trouble sitting down without falling. You may even notice some stumbling. Dizziness can be a co-symptom because it can cause trouble with walking and balance.
- Confusion or Lack of understanding – This presents as trouble understanding certain statements and commands. This symptom can be difficult to assess since it can also be attributed to other factors such as aging, stress, or simple distractions. Additionally, it may occur in the days leading up to a stroke, so cause and effect isn’t always present.
- Difficulty reading – A stroke can affect one side of the body more than the other. According to Women’s Health, if a stroke occurs on the left side of the brain, which controls language, “It can affect how you speak, your ability to understand what someone is saying, or your reading or writing skills.”
- Dizziness – This is closely associated with lack of balance since dizziness creates difficulty walking or standing. A person may report that the world is spinning, which can result in nausea and vomiting. This can be incorrectly diagnosed as vertigo, so it is important to contact a medical professional if this occurs without warning.
- Facial paralysis – This is usually the most noticeable symptom of a stroke. One side of the face droops or goes completely numb causing the face to be asymmetrical. If you’re not sure, ask the person to smile. If the individual is unable to do so, consider it an emergency situation and call 911.
- Headache – Individuals may experience a sudden severe, often debilitating headache prior to a stroke. It is so painful it can cause extreme nausea and even lead to a potential collapse.
- Hiccups – Women are more likely than men to experience hiccups as a sign of a stroke. According to Dr. Diana Greene-Chandos, a neurologist and Director of Neuroscience Critical Care said, “[Women] actually can have hiccups with a little bit of chest pain with their stroke symptoms, sometimes sending them down the pathway of looking for either heart disease or indigestion.”
- Impaired vision – There may be a period of time prior to stroke where the person complains of impaired vision. This can mean double or blurred vision, or a complete loss of sight. If you hold up a number of fingers and the person cannot tell you how many are showing, call 911 immediately.
- Lack of reflex response – The American Stroke Association says that up to 65-percent of people who have a stroke can develop dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. It is usually experienced after a stroke, but on occasion it happens prior or during one.
- Loss of sensation – It’s common for a gradual and sometimes total loss of feeling on the skin. A person may also experience a loss of taste and smell.
- Numbness – Numbness, which goes along with a loss of sensation, may be felt more on one side than the other because a stroke typically affects only one side of the body.
- Trouble talking – Halting or slurred speech are also early warning signs. The person may be unable to speak or have trouble forming sentences that make sense. Confusion may accompany this symptom.
- Weakness – You may notice a sudden loss of strength in the muscles of the face, arms, or legs. This could be temporary, or even occur after a stroke has occurred. Numbness may occur simultaneously.
Reducing your risk of stroke if you’re female
Women have a few unique risk factors that make them more likely than men to have a stroke. Women tend to live longer than men, and the risk of stroke increases with age. Some medications, including birth control, may also increase your risk of stroke. Other risk factors include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- Mental health issues, including stress.
Other ways you can help yourself
In spite of factors that you can’t control, there are steps you can take to lessen your chances of experiencing a stroke.
Since the number one cause of stroke is high blood pressure, have yours checked regularly, but at least once a year. If you are diagnosed with hypertension, monitor it routinely.
- Stay healthy – Rather than focus on eating or avoiding a single micronutrient, vary your diet by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Beware of labels claiming healthy choices when they may not be. For example, a whole grain muffin is still a muffin.
- Limit alcohol intake – Alcohol can raise your blood pressure, so drink in moderation.
- Stop using tobacco – Smoking of any kind, even light cigarettes, is not healthy and puts you at a greater risk for heart disease and developing a stroke.
- Maintain a healthy weight – Instead of fad diets, talk to your doctor about a sensible approach to weight loss that suits your lifestyle. If you have weight to lose, do so slowly so that you can sustain a healthy weight.
- Stay active – An active lifestyle helps your heart health, strengthens your bones and muscles and can reduce stress. Think of activity in terms of doing something you like. It doesn’t have to be a gym workout.
While these are only guidelines, if you are concerned about your risk of stroke, set an appointment with your primary care provider. Annual checkups are the best way to prevent anything from interfering with good health.