Published May 23, 2012
Contrary to popular perception, strokes do not predominantly afflict men. Every year 425,000 women experience a stroke -- around 55,000 times more than men -- and The National Stroke Association reports that twice as many women die from stroke than breast cancer.
Women and stroke
The Hazel K. Goddess Fund for Stroke Research in Women has one clear mission: to eradicate the impact of stroke from women's lives.
The organization describes stroke as a "low profile killer" of women and focuses on female-centered stroke research exclusively. "Since the physiology of women's bodies is different from men's in many ways," the organization explains, "stroke preventions and treatments may affect women differently."
Many women are not aware of or concerned with the risks related to stroke. Around 40 percent of women surveyed claimed to be either merely somewhat or not at all concerned about having a stroke, according to the National Stroke Association.
Many stroke symptoms are common for both women and men. Nonetheless, women may experience these warning signs suddenly: chest pain, face and limb pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, general weakness, hiccups and nausea, reported the National Stroke Association.
Likewise, certain risk-factors are exclusive to women: birth control medication, pregnancy and Hormone Replacement Therapy for menopause relief. Other risk-factors include high triglyceride levels (blood fat) and excess abdominal fat.
After menopause, a women's risk of stroke escalates considerably, due to the disappearance of the natural cardiovascular protection from their hormones.
"During this time, blood pressure and cholesterol levels rise at a faster rate, increasing stroke risk," explained Jan Flewelling, a registered nurse and stroke outreach coordinator for the Methodist Neurological Institute.
Michael Smith, a medical doctor with Life Extension, noted that women with extra belly fat and high triglyceride levels are up to five times as likely to suffer stroke.
Atrial fibrillation strokes are twice as deadly as other strokes, says Mellanie True Hills, CEO of StopAfib.org. If women feel palpitations (similar to fish flopping in their chests), this could be a sign of atrial fibrillation, a major cause of strokes.
Hills says, "For women, doctors often think it's stress or panic attacks, and may not get their atrial fibrillation diagnosed promptly, putting women at great risk for stroke."
Zachariah P. Zachariah, president and director of the Fort Lauderdale Heart Institute, says people should learn the mnemonic F.A.S.T., which helps determine whether someone is experiencing a stroke.
First, check the woman's face, by asking her to smile and seeing if one side is lower than the other. Second, ask her to raise both of her arms and check if one arms sags lower than the other. Third, ask her to say something simple to see if her speech is slurred or strange. Fourth, document the time that you saw any of these symptoms.
Call 911 immediately if any of these symptoms are present. "Many times," Zachariah says, "the the difference between a full and partial recovery is minutes."