Appearing confused, feeling nauseated, experiencing vision problems, or bad headache? These could be symptoms of stroke, the third leading cause of death in women.
Stroke experts at Parkland Health say there’s plenty of misinformation about causes, symptoms and treatment, so during Stroke Awareness Month this May, they want women to think about their heart health and understand how it affects their risk for stroke.
Sometimes called a brain attack, a stroke occurs when a clot blocks the supply of blood to the brain or a blood vessel in the brain bursts. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a main risk factor for stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2 in 5 women have blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/80 mm Hg or are taking medicine to control their blood pressure. Only about 1 in 4 of those women have their blood pressure controlled to below 130/80 mm Hg.
“Some people believe strokes only happen to the elderly or that they cannot be prevented.
A stroke can happen to anyone,” said Mark Johnson, MD, Section Chief of the Cerebrovascular Diseases and Stroke Program overseeing Stroke Programs at Parkland and UT Southwestern Medical Center and Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern. “It’s important to know that strokes kill twice as many women as breast cancer does and unfortunately many do not know their risk of having a stroke.”
Stroke is a leading cause of death among African American women, and they are more likely to die from a stroke than white or Hispanic women in the U.S. Almost half of African Americans have a risk factor that can lead to a stroke, according to the CDC. Hispanic women are not far behind. Strokes are the third leading cause of death for Hispanic women.
So, what are the specific reasons why the risk of stroke is higher in women than men? According to the American Stroke Association it might be due to:
- Pregnancy – The risk of stroke in pregnant women is 21 per 100,000 with the highest stroke risk during the third trimester and post-partum.
- Preeclampsia – This is high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy. Preeclampsia doubles the risk of stroke later in life.
- Birth control pills – Birth control pills have become much safer over time, but women who are already at risk for stroke should take extra precautions.
- Hormone replacement therapy – This type of therapy should never be used to prevent stroke in post-menopausal women.
- Migraine with aura – Migraine with aura is a recurring headache that strikes after or at the same time as sensory disturbances called aura. Sensory disturbances such as flashes of light, blind spots, and other vision changes or tingling in your hand or face. Migraine with aura is associated with ischemic stroke in younger women, particularly if they smoke or use oral contraceptives.
- Atrial Fibrillation – This increases stroke risk among women over age 75 by 20%.
“These may be alarming facts, but the good news is 4 of 5 strokes are preventable by controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol,” said Dr. Johnson. “You can do that by exercising more and de-stressing. Take walks with friends or practice yoga or meditation. It’s also important that you stay on top of your health by seeing your doctor regularly to help guide you with existing risk factors and prevent new ones.”
Dr. Johnson says it’s also important to know why you need to “BE FASTT” in a stroke emergency because time is of the essence to save lives and save brain function.
“BEFASTT” is a simple acronym to help people recognize and remember what to do in a stroke emergency:
- Balance: Do they have a sudden loss of balance?
- Eyes: Do they have a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes?
- Facial droop: When they smile, does one side of their face droop?
- Arm drift: When they raise both arms, does one arm drift downward?
- Slurred speech: When they repeat a sentence, are any of the words slurred?
- Terrible headache: Do they have a sudden, severe headache with other neurological deficits?
- Time is key: If a person shows any of the above symptoms, call 911.
With one or more of these symptoms of stroke, don’t hesitate, call 911 for medical help. Getting to a hospital rapidly will likely lead to better recovery and less damage to the brain.
For more information about stroke, visit www.strokeassociation.org.