What Women Don’t Know About Stroke Could Kill Them (Op-Ed)

Dr. Diana Greene-Chandos, neurologist and director of neuroscience critical care at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, contributed this column to Live Science’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Too few women know the female-specific risks and symptoms of a stroke, and it can have devastating consequences. I’ve seen it for years in my practice as a neurologist, and a recent national survey only underscores the same troubling truth.

The survey, commissioned and released by our hospital, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, went to 1,000 women nationwide and found that only 11 percent could correctly identify pregnancy, lupus, migraine headaches, oral contraception or hormone replacement therapy as female-specific risks for stroke.

That’s an alarming statistic given the vast number of women who have a connection to one or more of those risk factors. Unfortunately, many women think of stroke as a “men’s health issue,” but it is the third-highest cause of death among females in the United States, and claims more than 80,000 women each year, according to the National Stroke Association.

Spotting the symptoms

The symptoms of a stroke can be different for women than men, though few females in the survey were able to pinpoint some of those differences. Only 10 percent of women, for example, knew that females can experience hiccups and atypical chest pain during a stroke.

Awareness of particular early warning signs is important during a stroke because many women might assume they have indigestion and delay seeking medical attention. This can have serious consequences. Only within the first three hours after the onset of stroke is emergency treatment with clot-busting drugs a viable option. Women often miss this window because they don’t know what early warning signs to watch for.

The signs of stroke in women include:

  • Hiccups
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Body numbness, with one side being more numb than the other

Some symptoms, however, are the same for both women and men. These include:

  • Facial droop or uneven smile
  • Weakness that involves the arm and leg on the same side of the body
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking or understanding

If you experience any of these symptoms, don’t delay treatment. Call 911 immediately.

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