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May 7, 2024

Understanding the Signs of Stroke in Women

ThedaCare Continues Providing Complete Stroke Care for Patients and Families

May is American Stroke Month. When women discuss their health concerns, stroke may not be near the top of the list. Experts say it should be.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), strokes are among the top five killers of women, and one in five women will suffer a stroke between the ages of 55 and 75.

Nationwide, about 55,000 more women than men have strokes each year. Women also are more likely to die from strokes than men. Age plays a factor in that statistic. Since women tend to live longer than men, they are more likely to have a stroke.

Biological changes that come with perimenopause and menopause can also play a role. Health experts explain that the body stops producing estrogen, women’s risk for stroke and heart disease increases.

“Women face particular risks when it comes to stroke,” said Dr. Thomas Mattio, a neurologist with Neuroscience Group and Medical Director of the ThedaCare Comprehensive Stroke Center. “They must understand their risk factors and know the signs so they can seek treatment as soon as possible,”

Understanding Stroke

Strokes happen when blood flow to an area of the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. This cuts off the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain and can lead to death or permanent damage.

According to Dr. Mattio, there are two main types of strokes. Ischemic strokes, the more common type, happen when a blood clot blocks or plugs an artery leading to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when blood vessels weaken and rupture under pressure.

When people survive strokes, they often face long-term disabilities, including problems with speech and body movements. Strokes also cause memory issues and put people at an increased risk of developing depression.

The CDC noted that high blood pressure is the greatest risk factor for strokes. Some women see their blood pressure increase as they go through perimenopause and menopause as their estrogen levels decrease. Women should keep an eye on their blood pressure, make lifestyle changes, and take medication as needed.

Knowing the Signs

Everyone should recognize stroke symptoms. Awareness is essential, as the more quickly people receive care, the better the potential outcome.

The acronym BE FAST can help in remembering the signs of stroke:

B — Balance: Watch for sudden loss of balance

E — Eyes: Check for blurred vision or vision loss

F — Face: Look for facial drooping or an uneven smile

A — Arms: Monitor for arm — or leg — weakness

S — Speech: Listen for slurred speech

T — Time: Call 911 right away

If you or someone around you experiences these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Don’t try to take the person to the hospital yourself. Time is critical because some treatments for stroke work only if given within the first three hours of symptom onset. A delay in treatment increases the risk of permanent brain damage or death.

Lowering Stroke Risk

“While strokes are serious, people can take steps to help decrease their risk,” said Dr. Mattio.

People can lower their stroke risk by:

  • Controlling high blood pressure
  • Decreasing the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in their diet
  • Abstaining from tobacco use
  • Managing diabetes
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Exercising regularly
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation, if at all
  • Treating obstructive sleep apnea
  • Avoiding illegal drugs

While some stroke risk factors can be controlled, others cannot. Non-modifiable risk factors include:

  • Age — People age 55 or older have a higher risk of stroke than do younger people. However, anyone, at any age, can have a stroke.
  • Race or ethnicity — Black and Hispanic people have a higher risk of stroke than do people of other races or ethnicities.
  • Hormones — Using birth control pills or hormone therapies that include estrogen increases risk.

Accessing Care

ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah is the region’s only Comprehensive Stroke Center. This accreditation from DNV GL – Healthcare demonstrates the highest level of competence for treatment of serious stroke events. ThedaCare was awarded initial certification in 2019.

ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton is accredited as a Primary Stroke Center. This certification goes to hospitals that have the necessary staffing, infrastructure, and programs to stabilize and treat most emergent stroke patients.

ThedaCare Critical Access Hospitals in Berlin, New London, Shawano, Waupaca, and Wild Rose have all earned Acute Stroke Ready certifications. With this certification, smaller and rural hospitals must demonstrate excellence by complying with standards of care for the initial treatment of stroke patients, when rapid action and proper medications can save lives and limit the long-term disabling effects of strokes.

During this American Stroke Month, Dr. Mattio encouraged education and awareness.

“We want to support all people in taking positive steps to help reduce their risk of stroke,” he said. “It’s essential that each person knows the signs and seeks treatment if they or a loved one shows any stroke symptoms. If someone receives treatment quickly, it can provide opportunities for better outcomes.”