Strokes: The silent killer of women

Heart disease and breast cancer have been concerns in the lives of women for decades. Strokes, however, kill twice as many women as breast cancer every year. In fact, 450,000 women will have a stroke this year alone.

Dr. Carolyn Brockington, the Director of the Stroke Center at Saint Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, hopes to educate women about the risk factors that cause strokes, as well as ways to prevent them in the future.  

“What's interesting is that all ages, everyone can have a stroke,” Brockington said. “Obviously, the incidents or the number of strokes increases as you get older.  But whether it's men or women, everyone equally can be affected by stroke.”

Brockington said that understanding the symptoms of a stroke is fundamental in preventing them.  The signs of a stroke vary depending on each individual. A woman suffering from a stroke may notice a facial drop, weakness in the legs and arms, trouble walking, slurring of words, or disorientation.

“All of these symptoms are going to be sudden because not enough blood getting to the brain causes an injury right away,” Brockington said. “This is not over months and years; this is over seconds to minutes.”

According to Brockington, if a woman is suffering from any of these stroke symptoms, she must go to the hospital right away.

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“We say that ‘Time is brain and stroke,’” Brockington said. “Every moment that goes by that the brain is not getting enough blood flow – that could be an irreversible injury to the brain.”

In addition to understanding the symptoms, Brockington said that recognizing your own risks factors for a stroke can be a pro-active way to prevent them in the future.

“The risk factors in general are first high blood pressure,” Brockington said. “[This is the] number one risk factor for heart disease and stroke.”

Women, apart from men, have unique risk factors that can cause strokes.

“One of them happens to be migraines,” Brockington said. “Not all types of migraines, but a very specific migraine can sometimes increase someone's risk of stroke.”

Brockington also explained that hormonal therapy plays a factor in why strokes occur predominantly in women.

“Things like oral contraceptives – when you take hormones for post-menopausal things –[they create] sort-of a hypercoagulable state,” Brockington said. “So it can cause blood clots and those blood clots can go to the brain and that can cause a stroke.”

Once you identity your risk factors, such as high blood pressure or hormonal therapy, Brockington advised you should talk to your doctor.

“Discuss with [your] doctor whether there is a family history of blood clotting, because that can be important,” Brockington said. “And also, the different types of migraines people can have, [women should] talk to their doctors about whether that puts them at risk for stroke.”