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Strokes more common in women; know the signs

Last updated: May 1, 2024

When women discuss their health concerns, stroke may not be near the top of the list, but it should be. 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 also play a role. When the body stops producing estrogen, women’s risk for stroke and heart disease increases.

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

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.

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.

High blood pressure is the No. 1 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 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, they are preventable,” Dr. Mattio said. “Everyone can take steps to decrease their risk.”

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

Seven ThedaCare hospitals have received stroke care accreditation from DNV GL – Healthcare. ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah is the region’s only Comprehensive Stroke Center. This accreditation demonstrates the highest level of competence for treatment of serious stroke events.

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.

This Stroke Awareness Month, Dr. Mattio encourages education and awareness.

“Strokes can be deadly, but taking positive steps can reduce risk,” he says. “It’s essential everyone know the signs and seek treatment if they or a loved one exhibits any stroke symptoms. The quicker someone receives treatment, the better their odds.”

Track and manage stroke risk factors at your annual wellness visit.

Tags: BE FAST blood pressure Menopause perimenopause Stroke women’s health

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