Stroke is found to be the third leading cause of deaths in women around the world. As women generally live longer than men, the effects of the stroke affect women more than men. Women also live longer in a health care facility after developing a stroke than men. Moreover, they mostly experience a worse recovery after the occurrence of stroke than men.
There are many factors due to which women are more at a risk of having a stroke, which include longer lifespan, more stress, more prone to high blood pressure, pregnancy and birth control pills.
Common signs of Stroke
Learning the common signs of stroke is important as far as the diagnosis, treatment, and management is concerned. Once you are well-informed about the signs, it will be easy to recognize them. If you recognize one or more of the symptoms below, you should quickly seek medical attention. Remember, every minute counts as far as a stroke is concerned.
- Sudden numbness of the face, arm, or leg
- Trouble in speaking and understanding conversations/speech
- Difficulty in walking
- Dizziness and loss of balance/coordination
- Blurred vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden, severe headache with an unknown cause
Unique Symptoms of Stroke in women
Stroke in women can exhibit some unique symptoms that are different from the common ones. Such symptoms include:
- Loss of consciousness
- General body weakness especially in legs
- Confusion, unresponsiveness, and disorientation
- Sudden unusual behavioral changes
- Unusual agitation
- Persistent vomiting
Unique symptoms are confusing since they are not recognized as symptoms of stroke, which consequently delays treatment. This can be fatal. Stroke treatments are most effective when administered within the first 3 hours, since the symptoms are observed.
Unique Risk factors of Stroke in women
The following are the unique risk factors of stroke in women:
- Birth control pills: The risk of a stroke is higher in women using oral contraceptives and is even higher if women are abusing drugs, consuming excessive alcohol, and are chain smokers.
- Pregnancy: During pregnancy, the risk of getting a stroke is higher due to the changes of body functioning like high blood pressure and heart disease complications.
- Hormone replacement therapies: If you are taking a hormonal replacement therapy, a combined hormone therapy featuring progestin and estrogen are used to alleviate menopausal symptoms.
- Migraine headaches with aura: Statistics indicate that migraines increase the risk of getting a stroke by more than two times. In fact, this can be confirmed by the fact that most people in America suffering from stroke are women.
- High blood pressure:This is one of the factors that increase the risk of stroke in both men and women, but the severity is more in women. And the risk is even higher in women with high blood pressure and who take birth control pills.
- Preeclampsia: This is a condition that develops in few pregnant women after 20 weeks of their pregnancy. This not only increases the risk of a stroke, but it can also be a fatal and life-threatening situation for the mother and child. The first signs of this condition is high blood pressure, at times it can begin with gestational diabetes which is a type of illness that can occur anytime in the mid-pregnancy stage.
- Atrial fibrillation: The inconsistent fluttering of the top chamber of the heart slows down the flow of blood to the lower chamber, the area which pumps the blood to the other parts of the body. The blood gets collected in the atria and there can be clotting of blood. This is one of the biggest risk factors that can affect any gender, but it is worse in women.
- Loneliness and depression: Isolation, depression, personal and professional stress are all linked to high blood pressure, which is one of the major risk factors that can cause stroke. These feelings not only affect the psychological health of a person, but also the physical health.
What should be done in case of stroke?
It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stroke, so that it is easy to know if you or anyone near you is having a stroke and to act promptly. The National Stroke Association has come up with a very simple strategy for identifying the symptoms of stroke. The acronym F.A.S.T describes the three major symptoms of stroke and call for action.
- F (Face) – Check if one side of the face is drooping
- A (Arms) – See if one arm drifts downward or there is any weakness
- S (Speech) – See if the there is any speech difficulty or the speech is slurred
- T (Time) – If you feel that any of the above three symptoms are visible; it’s time to act fast and call for immediate medical attention.
In cases of stroke, every minute is important, so one must act quickly. The more you wait to seek medical attention, the more the chances of the stroke to lead to brain damage.
Initially, if you feel you are having a stroke, you may think of driving to the nearest hospital. But it is best to call for emergency services and wait for them to arrive to your location. Once they arrive, they can provide you with immediate medical attention and help you reach the hospital. Once you reach the hospital, the doctor will check your signs and also make a note of your medical history. He will perform a physical examination and ask you to take a few tests before diagnosing the cause of the symptoms.
Treatment options for stroke
The treatment option varies based on the type of the stroke:
- Ischemic Stroke: This is the most common type of stroke, in which due to blood clot, there is no flow of blood to the brain. The doctor will recommend a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) medication which will help break the clot and ensure smooth flow of blood. The medication must be given within four hours from when the first symptoms weres visible. Only then will this medication be effective. The other options are administration of a blood thinner or any other anticoagulant medication which will stop the platelets from forming into clots and blocking the blood flow.The other treatment options are surgery or any other form of invasive procedures that will enable busting of the clots to allow flow of blood to the brain.
Hemorrhagic stroke: This is a condition which develops when an artery in the brain gets damaged or leaks blood. The doctor will treat this type of stroke in a different manner, for instance if a person suffers from hemorrhagic stroke due to:
- Aneurysm: The treatment option is a surgery to restrict the blood flow to the aneurysm.
- High blood pressure: The patient will be provided medication to bring the blood pressure under control and stop the bleeding.
- Faulty arteries and cracked veins: The treatment options is repair of arteriovenous malformation to avoid any further bleeding.
Recovery from stroke in women
Studies have shown that women take longer to recover post a stroke than men. Women are more prone to experiencing the following;
- Any type of disability related to the stroke
- Impact on daily activities
- Mental impairment
- Effect on the quality of life
This could be due to less physical activity before stroke or depression symptoms.
Prevention of stroke
Every year, the women who die due to stroke are twice more than the women who die due to breast cancer. Therefore, it is very important to be aware of the symptoms of stroke and also take care of the overall health.
Some of the preventive measures for stroke are as follows:
- Follow a balanced diet
- Maintain weight and avoid being over or under weight
- Exercise regularly
- Quit smoking
- Give time for hobbies like knitting, yoga, meditation to help relieve stress
Women should take more preventive steps due to the unique risk factors that they are more prone to. This would mean:
- Continuously monitoring blood pressure during pregnancy
- Compulsory screening of atrial fibrillation for women above 75 years
- Checking for high blood pressure before starting birth control pills
The recovery post a stroke will vary for every woman. Physical therapy may be useful to help women learn again any skills lost post the stroke. Some women learn again how to walk and talk within few months of recovering from a stroke. But few may take much more time. During this phase, it is important to keep oneself motivated and follow a healthy lifestyle since this will not only help recover from the stroke, it will also help prevent strokes in the future.
- Effective treatments for stroke are available within the initial 3 hours of the onset of symptoms.
- The signs and symptoms of a stroke can be identified using the acronym F.A.S.T created by The National Stroke Association that describes the three major symptoms of stroke.
- For faster recovery from a stroke, it is important to keep oneself motivated and follow a healthy lifestyle.