Women Are More Likely to Get Strokes

Ready for a few sobering facts?

Strokes are the third leading cause of death for women. The American Stroke Association reports that about 60% of stroke deaths occur in females, which means that women are more likely to have strokes than men.

Not only that, women are less likely to recognize the signs of stroke or receive immediate medical care.

Illustration of a woman's head profile
Global Mechanic

Interestingly enough, 80% of strokes are preventable with diet, exercise, lifestyle modifications and medical care.

Almost 800,000 Americans have strokes every year when a blood clot blocks circulation to the brain, or a blood vessel in the brain bursts. When that happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. Abilities controlled by that area of the brain, such as memory and muscle control, are lost.

While many people recover fully after a stroke, almost two-thirds of stroke survivors suffer some level of disability. That means that even if a stroke doesn’t kill them, it could leave them disabled (including being paralyzed, or unable to speak, walk or care for themselves), depressed and unable to live independently.

Let’s do something about that. Let’s make strokes a high-priority women’s issue.

Why Are Women So Likely to Get Strokes?

Smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and uncontrolled high blood pressure/cholesterol place everyone at increased risk for having a stroke. However, there are many physical and cultural issues unique to women, which put them at even higher risk and may lead to poorer outcomes.

Women Live Longer

Women generally live longer than men, and incidences of stroke increase as we age. Higher incidences of death and disability may be because women are more likely to live alone later in life, which can delay access to life-saving/brain-saving healthcare. It also means that after a stroke, women are more likely to live in a long-term healthcare facility.

Women Have Different Hormones

Estrogen and progestin in oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy have been linked with increased incidences of stroke. While most women can use hormone replacement therapy with no problems, those who smoke, don’t exercise and/or are obese are at increased risk for having a stroke.

Women Get More Autoimmune Diseases

The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association reports that women get autoimmune diseases three times more often than men. Lupus and other inflammatory autoimmune disorders can damage blood vessels and lead to blood clot formation and/or blood vessel rupture.

Women Get More Migraines

The National Stroke Association says that migraines with aura can increase a woman’s stroke risk two and a half times, and most people in the US who suffer migraines are women.

Women Put Themselves Last

Even when they don’t feel well, putting others first comes naturally to many women. Women may hesitate to seek emergency healthcare until after they’ve taken care of family and gotten a few chores out of the way.

Women Aren’t Studied

Throughout most of medical history, studies, tests and treatment for cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, focused primarily on men. They never considered the fact that women’s bodies faced different challenges and risks for stroke, and that women responded differently to treatment.

Women Are Taken Less Seriously

There’s a long history of gender discrimination in healthcare that makes many women gun-shy about getting the care they need. Many women report that healthcare providers belittle or minimize their medical complaints, or reduce their concerns to being anxiety-related or all in their heads. Even when they know something’s wrong, women are less likely to demand further testing or a second opinion if their healthcare concerns are dismissed.

Women Are Subtle

“Because stroke symptoms in women are more subtle, they’re often not taken seriously,” says Jennifer Mieres, M.D. a professor of Cardiology & Population Health at R Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine in Hempstead, NY, and national volunteer spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

“Furthermore, sometimes when women arrive at the hospital with symptoms, they’re misdiagnosed until it’s too late.”

What Are the Signs of Stroke in Women?

The American Heart Association says you should remember the acronym FAST:

  • F- Face Weakness
  • A-Arm Weakness
  • S-Speech difficulty
  • T-Time to call 9-1-1

Mieres adds, “Other stroke symptoms include sudden numbness of the face, arm or leg, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, trouble walking and sudden headache that feels like the worst headache of your life.”

In addition, the National Stroke Association says that women may report symptoms that are different from those men commonly experience. They include:

  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • General weakness
  • Difficulty or shortness of breath
  • Confusion, unresponsiveness or disorientation
  • Sudden behavioral change
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Hiccups

What Should You Do if You Have Stroke Symptoms?

Call 911 immediately. Nobody knows your body better than you do.

Editor’s note: Are you aging actively in a unique and inspiring way? Are you interested in sharing your experience with us? We love to be inspired. We have a goal to bring more diverse points of view and lifestyles to Lifetime Daily this year. Send in your details or recommend a friend. You can reach us at editor@lifetimedaily.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

About the Writer

Jeanne Faulkner

Jeanne is an RN with 25 years' experience working in women's health. Based in Portland, OR, she's the author of Common Sense Pregnancy and writes about health and wellness for a variety of publications and websites. As a CARE chairperson for advocacy, she’s traveled worldwide to raise awareness of poverty eradication and global health issues.

Share this Article

Related Articles

Get your FREE eBook

Enter your email address to receive this eBook. Enjoy and thanks for downloading!

Every week, you’ll also receive the best healthy living advice for active aging.

Error: Please enter a valid email address

Error: Invalid email

Error: Please enter your first name

Error: Please enter your last name

Error: Please enter a username

Error: Please enter a password

Error: Please confirm your password

Error: Password and password confirmation do not match

[addthis tool="addthis_relatedposts_inline"]