Women and Stroke – Surprising Signs to Know

By: Helen Bolstad

May 10, 2021

Stroke in women

Stroke is unfortunately common, with 1 in 5 American women experiencing it each year. When it comes to a stroke the phrase “time is brain” speaks to the urgency of getting rapid care. In fact, a woman may lose nearly 2 million neurons per minute of oxygen loss to the brain. The Renown Health Comprehensive Stroke Center experts share the importance of timely treatment and how stroke symptoms can differ in women.

Women and Stroke – Surprising Symptoms 

Each year stroke affects more women than men. Even more concerning, women are less likely to recover from a stroke. The following non-traditional, less common, warning signs can be common in women:
  • Hiccups with chest pain
  • Sudden disorientation, drowsiness, confusion or a general altered mental status
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A sudden headache that feels like the ‘worst headache of your life’
  • Unusual chest pain (especially with hiccups)
  • Body numbness or weakness, such as an arm or leg suddenly ‘falling asleep’
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

Stroke Diagnosis

The first step is neuroimaging by CT scan. This allows for rapid identification of any bleed, and also assists in determining candidacy for the early clot busting medication. MRI brain imaging is much higher resolution, and can better determine the core stroke size, assisting in prognosis and recovery. Since strokes have several different origins, an inpatient workup is essential to determine the underlying cause. Whether the stroke is secondary to plaque in the large vessels, clots being thrown in the setting of atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm), or small vessel disease from years of uncontrolled vascular risk factors (high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes), determining the cause is essential to implementing a management plan to reduce risk for further strokes.

Quick Treatment for Stroke is Key

Early recognition of stroke symptoms and seeking prompt attention is paramount. There are interventions that can be instituted to minimize the stroke and increase likelihood of recovery, but only if a patient presents to the hospital early. A clot busting medication, called tPA, can be given to patients with stroke if given within 4-5 hours from time of onset.

Renown Regional Health Center is designated as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, the highest level of stroke certification available. To earn the designation of comprehensive stroke center, a hospital has to meet stringent requirements, including biannual on-site evaluations. This includes care for ischemic stroke patients (lack of blood flow), hemorrhagic stroke patients (bleeds), and determining the underlying cause to guide secondary stroke management prevention.

Stroke Symptoms

Remember “B.E.F.A.S.T.” to recognize the symptoms of a stroke below:

Recognize stroke symptoms with the BEFAST method

B – Balance
Being off balance or dizzy, is common.

E – Eyes
An eyesight change such as blurring or double vision may occur.

F – Face droop
One side of the face, or lip, droops

A – Arm weakness
Does one arm drift down?

S – Speech
Talking may slur or sound strange.

T – Time
Time to call 911. Call an ambulance immediately if you or anyone else, experiences any of these symptoms.

Preventing a stroke

Although a stroke can happen at any age, the good news is you can prevent it. Unfortunately African American and Hispanic women are more likely to have a stroke than other women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The following lifestyle changes are recommended to prevent strokes:

  • Control your blood pressure
  • Manage your cholesterol
  • Don’t smoke or quit smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating healthy and exercising regularly
  • Get screened for diabetes
  • Diagnosing sleep apnea and seeking treatment
  • While May is national stroke awareness month, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke all year. Especially the non-traditional stroke symptoms in women. You could save the life of your mother, sister, aunt, co-worker, friend, or even your own life.

The Renown Regional Medical Center is a Comprehensive Stroke Center, receiving the Gold Plus Achievement award by the American Stroke Association. Our Stroke Program provides  primary stroke care including evaluation, treatment and education to patients who arrive at a Renown facility with the signs and symptoms of a stroke.