Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of severe disability. During a stroke, blood flow to an area of the brain is blocked or a blood vessel ruptures, causing bleeding in the brain. Women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men.
Stroke can cause severe physical and cognitive impairment (difficulty in thinking and reasoning) due to brain damage that occurs when blood flow to areas of the brain is deprived. Symptoms may include difficulty speaking, paralysis on one side of the face or body, and confusion.
In addition to these common symptoms, some people, especially women, have subtle symptoms—such as fatigue or nausea—that can go unnoticed and untreated. It’s important to recognize these subtle symptoms in women and get help right away.
This article will discuss the signs of stroke in women and how to prevent it. Learning more can save your life or the life of a loved one.
In the United States, the lifetime risk of stroke for women aged 55 to 75 is one in five. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in women, and in the United States, black women are more likely to die from stroke than Hispanic or non-Hispanic white women.
Warning Signs of Stroke
Typical warning signs of stroke develop and worsen quickly, so if you or someone else has symptoms or signs of a stroke, it is advisable to seek medical attention right away.
- Difficulty speaking, communicating, or understanding others
- Difficulty moving the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
- Decreased or changed sensation on one side of the body
- Vision change
- severe headache or dizziness
- Confusion, altered alertness, or seizures (uncontrolled abnormal electrical activity in the brain that can cause stiffness, convulsions, and limp)
Get emergency medical help if you experience or witness any of these symptoms.
Stroke Symptoms in Women
Sometimes the early signs of a stroke may not be obvious, or the stroke may not cause the usual effects. Uncommon symptoms can affect anyone at any age, but are more common in women. These less common symptoms are described as atypical stroke symptoms and include fatigue, lethargy, incontinence, pain or general weakness.
Most studies examining the effects of stroke on women have included people who were identified as women at birth.
fatigue and weakness
Sometimes a stroke can cause general fatigue and general weakness. This may not necessarily manifest as weakness on one side of the body.
Sudden tiredness and weakness can also occur due to certain physiological changes that can accompany a stroke, such as changes in blood pressure and blood sugar. Pain is a rare symptom of stroke, but it can happen.
Confusion and difficulty thinking clearly
Brain damage often interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly. Difficulty communicating can exacerbate confusion.Stroke can also lead to increased pressure on the brain due to Brain edema (brain swelling). This can lead to confusion and trouble.
Sometimes incontinence (unintentional release of urine or feces) can accompany confusion.
nausea and vomiting
Increased pressure on the brain or damage to specific brain centers often causes sudden and sometimes uncontrollable nausea and vomiting. This is usually accompanied by a headache.
Atypical signs of stroke
You may experience more than one atypical stroke symptom, and you may experience atypical stroke symptoms with or without typical stroke symptoms.
Causes and Risk Factors
The most common causes and risk factors for stroke are the same for any gender and they include high blood pressure (hypertension), atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) has been linked to unhealthy cholesterol levels, uncontrolled diabetes, heart disease, carotid artery disease (the formation of plaque on the sides of the neck that narrows these arteries) and smoking.
Women have additional risk factors that do not affect men.
The risk of stroke in women is influenced by underlying medical conditions, race and ethnicity. For example, women with sickle cell disease are at high risk for blood clots, which can lead to stroke.
Black women have higher rates of sickle cell disease, high blood pressure, smoking and obesity — all of which increase the risk of stroke. Hispanic women are more likely to suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
pregnancy and eclampsia
eclampsia (emergencies that can occur during childbirth) may alter the mother’s blood pressure and clotting process. This increases the risk of stroke and other types of blood clots. Sometimes, the hormonal changes of normal pregnancy can also increase the risk of blood clots.
birth control or hormone therapy
Hormone therapy, including birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, and hormone therapy used to treat conditions (such as polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition in which women have high levels of androgens in the body, considered male hormones), can increase by Stroke risk varies by mechanism, including effects on blood clotting.
obesity and high blood pressure
Obesity and hypertension are interconnected and associated with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of co-occurring disorders) that may precede diabetes. Each of these problems increases the risk of stroke, and treatment can help reduce the risk.
For some women, obesity alters estrogen levels, which may increase stroke risk.
Overview of Metabolic Syndrome
Migraine with aura
Migraine headaches sometimes accompany or precede halo. Symptoms of aura include:
- speech change
- Vision changes (such as seeing lights or jagged lines)
Migraine with aura increases the risk of stroke. Women are more likely than men to experience migraines, with or without aura.
How to tell if it’s a stroke or a migraine
Several lifestyle factors have a profound impact on stroke risk. Smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, and severe stress increase the risk of stroke. Use of hormone therapy or hormone-based birth control pills and smoking increase the risk.
Direct treatment of stroke aims to reduce brain damage. These treatments include stabilizing blood pressure and blood sugar, reducing excessive edema (swelling), and maintaining fluid balance.
These treatments are tailored and adjusted to a person’s condition and are closely monitored in the hours and days after stroke symptoms begin.
For strokes associated with blood clots visible on imaging scans, treatment can include drugs to prevent the clot from getting bigger and procedures that can dissolve or remove the clot.
Research suggests that certain treatments may affect women differently than men. Women have a worse prognosis than men after acute (sudden, severe) stroke if they do not receive thrombolytic drugs that dissolve blood clots.
Women may benefit more from acute stroke treatment with tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), which is usually given intravenously or with intraarterial prourokinaseThrombolytics are introduced through the artery.
If you have had a stroke, your treatment will be tailored to your individual situation, including an assessment of your stroke impact, your diagnostic tests and your potential risk factors – whether you are a man or a woman.
How to Treat a Stroke
How Women Can Prevent Stroke
Stroke prevention is very important for anyone with risk factors. That means maintaining optimal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and being treated for diabetes and heart disease. Also, quitting smoking is crucial.
Research suggests that some preventive measures for women may differ from men, including:
- Healthy women, especially women over the age of 65, can benefit from taking aspirin to prevent stroke, while the benefits for men are different. Consult your healthcare provider or neurologist for advice based on your personal medical history.
- Women with moderate carotid stenosis (stenosis) without symptoms may not benefit from surgery as well as men, and may also be at higher risk for stroke due to severe or symptomatic carotid stenosis.
- Endovascular therapy, a minimally invasive procedure that reduces the risk of stroke, may benefit women more than men.
- The prevalence of atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm) is higher in men, but women are at higher risk of stroke and death due to atrial fibrillation, and a worse prognosis after stroke due to atrial fibrillation.
In addition to these differences, target body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol levels were different for women and men. It’s important to follow your age- and gender-specific guidelines when you’re trying to reduce your stroke risk.
Stroke is a serious health condition with life-changing consequences that can lead to disability and death. Stroke can occur at any age, and women have a higher lifetime stroke risk than men.
Women need to be aware of common stroke risk factors, as well as other risk factors such as hormone therapy and pregnancy. Women also need emergency medical care for typical stroke symptoms and watch out for atypical stroke symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty thinking clearly, and nausea or vomiting.
If you have symptoms that make you feel like you are not yourself or have no control over your body, follow your instincts and seek medical attention. Getting help and attention as soon as possible will help you get a faster diagnosis, prompt treatment, and better overall outcomes.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the first signs of a stroke in women?
Usually, when a woman has a stroke, the initial symptoms are the same as most men after a stroke — difficulty speaking or communicating, weakness on one side of the face or body, changes in vision or consciousness. Women are more likely than men to experience atypical signs of stroke, such as incontinence, fatigue or confusion.
How does a stroke feel for a woman?
A stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) may cause a temporary lack of muscle control, difficulty speaking, or vision changes. Symptoms begin to appear very quickly due to a lack of blood supply to an area of the brain. Symptoms subside within minutes, at which point blood flow returns naturally before brain damage occurs.
Should you still go to the hospital if your stroke symptoms go away quickly?
Yes, you should seek emergency medical care even if your stroke symptoms go away quickly. A TIA is a warning sign of stroke risk, and you may have a stroke hours or days after a TIA. Identifying and treating your risk factors, especially high blood pressure and heart problems, can reduce your risk of stroke.