Women and Stroke—A Different Disease

If you’re a woman, have you ever felt dizzy without reason or experienced sudden weakness? While these conditions may seem common, they could also be possible signs of a stroke. Learn about the unique symptoms of stroke in women and how you can help lower your risk.

Did you know that strokes are the third leading cause of death in women? It may come as a surprise, but more women die from strokes than breast cancer—by a margin of 2 to 1.

What may be even more surprising is the fact many women don’t know when they’re having a stroke. Their symptoms are often mild and can be easily confused with other less-serious conditions.

According to Dr. Thomas Devlin, Medical Co-Director of the Erlanger Southeast Regional Stroke Center, “Symptoms of an impending stroke are different in women than men and are less likely to be reported and correctly diagnosed by physicians. In some respects, it is actually a different disease.”

Why education is key to combating strokes in women

Dr. Devlin believes awareness is essential, so patients can get the help they need. “Area residents, particularly women, have to be educated so they can better recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke,” he said. “A few minutes can mean the difference between a full recovery and severe disability — or even death.”

According to the Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women’s symptoms can include:

  • Sudden face and arm or leg pain
  • Sudden hiccups
  • Sudden nausea (feeling sick to your stomach)
  • Sudden tiredness
  • Sudden chest pain
  • Sudden shortness of breath (feeling like you can’t get enough air)
  • Sudden pounding or racing heartbeat

These are different from the common symptoms most medical professionals use to diagnose a stroke.

What causes stroke in women?

While recognizing the signs of a stroke is important, it’s just as important to understand the factors that could contribute to the occurrence of stroke. Common risk factors include family history, smoking, poor exercise and diet, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

But for women, the risk factors can be more complicated, mostly due to life changes women experience and because women live longer than men on average.

Additional risk factors for women include:

  • The use of birth control pills
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy
  • Migraine headaches with aura
  • Pregnancy

How you can reduce your risk

According to the National Stroke Association, women can take some simple steps to help avoid the incidence of of a stroke.

  • Before starting a birth control regimen, get screened for high blood pressure
  • If you smoke and have migraines with aura, stop smoking immediately
  • If you are over 75, ask to be screened for Atrial Fibrillation
  • Monitor your blood pressure during and after pregnancy

If you ever have a concern about blood pressure, high cholesterol or other factors that could lead to a stroke, it’s a good idea to consult your physician to learn now to reduce your risk. Often, simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference to your overall well-being.

Erlanger Southeast Regional Stroke Center is Southeast Tennessee’s first and only accredited comprehensive stroke center and a world-class leader in the latest stroke trials, clinical research and intervention. Visit erlanger.org to learn how Erlanger can help you manage risk factors and get the care you need.