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Ask the Expert: Women and Stroke - Knowing signs & symptoms may save a life

Be Fast Graphic.PNG
Be Fast Graphic.PNG
A stroke is a brain attack that requires immediate medical attention. Know the warning signs and get help immediately if you experience them. The quicker you can get treatment in the event of a stroke, the better off you will be.


Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women (in comparison, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for men). Each year 55,000 more women have a stroke than men.

What Causes a Stroke?
There are three different kinds of stroke, all of which cause the same problem – depriving the brain of the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive.

  • An ischemic stroke (more than 85% of all strokes) is caused by a blockage in an artery carrying blood into the brain.
  • A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is a brief ischemic stroke. Though symptoms pass quickly, a TIA requires medical attention because, statistically, the risk is high that another stroke will occur soon.
  • A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel inside the brain leaks or bursts.


Each year stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer.
However, this fact is widely unknown among the general public. Women are also less knowledgeable about the risk factors and don’t perceive themselves at risk for stroke.

  • Women who experience migraines with aura and smoke are advised to stop smoking immediately.
  • Women who are pregnant should monitor their blood pressure during and after pregnancy to lower the risk of stroke.
  • Women over 75 should be screened for Atrial Fibrillation
  • Women should be screened for high blood pressure prior to starting a birth control regimen.
  • Women with concerns about high blood pressure or stroke should consult a doctor.


How Do I Know I’m Having a Stroke?

You can use the acronym BE FAST to remember the signs of a stroke, and also to remind yourself that if you have these symptoms you’d better BE FAST and call 911. The letters stand for:

B: Balance - sudden dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
E: Eyes - sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
F: Face - sudden weakness of the face (Does one side of your face droop?)
A: Arm - weakness of an arm or leg
S: Speech - sudden difficulty speaking
T: Time - time the symptoms started

For every second that blood flow is interrupted to the brain, approximately 32,000 brain cells dies. The mantra in stroke care is ‘time is brain.’ What that means is, shorter time to treatment translates to less disability. If you think you’re having a stroke call 911 and get to the hospital as soon as possible.”

Because in general women live longer than men, stroke will have a more negative impact on their lives. More women will:

  • Live alone when they have a stroke
  • Be more likely to live in a long-term health care facility after a stroke
  • Have a worse recovery after stroke


Common Stroke Symptoms

It is important to learn the many warning signs of a stroke so you will be able to recognize them if one or more happens to you or a loved one. Once you know the signs, it is extremely important to recognize them and get to the hospital immediately when the first symptoms appear. You may be tempted to downplay your symptoms and not want to go to the hospital. This is normal, but instead you need to get to a hospital where experts are trained in diagnose treatment and can make the difference between life and death.

Unique Symptoms in Women
Women may report symptoms that are different from the common symptoms. They can 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

Unique symptoms create a problem, as they are often not recognized as a stroke symptom and treatment is often delayed. The most effective stroke treatments are only available if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within the first three hours of the first symptoms.

Unique Risk Factors in Women

One way you can improve your odds for not having a stroke is to learn about the lifestyle changes and if necessary, medications, you can take to lower your stroke risk. In addition to the general risk factors like family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, lack of exercise, and being overweight, as a woman you are faced with unique risk factors which include:

  • Taking birth control pills. The greatest concern about using oral contraceptives is for women with additional risk factors, such as age, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Being pregnant. Stroke risk increases during a normal pregnancy due to natural changes in the body such as increased blood pressure and stress on the heart.
  • Using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), a combined hormone therapy of progestin and estrogen, to relieve menopausal symptoms.
  • Suffering from migraine headaches with aura. Migraines can increase a woman's stroke risk two and a half times and most people in the U.S. who suffer migraines are women.


Stroke Prevention for Women

Each year stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer. However, this fact is widely unknown among the general public. Women are also less knowledgeable about the risk factors and don’t perceive themselves at risk for stroke.

  • Women who experience migraines with aura and smoke are advised to stop smoking immediately.
  • Women who are pregnant should monitor their blood pressure during and after pregnancy to lower the risk of stroke.
  • Women over 75 should be screened for Atrial Fibrillation
  • Women should be screened for high blood pressure prior to starting a birth control regimen.
  • Women with concerns about high blood pressure or stroke should consult a doctor.


Intermountain Medical Center’s Stroke Program

Intermountain Medical Center is home to one of the most sophisticated stroke centers in the western United States. The stroke program at Intermountain Medical Center treats more stroke patients than any other hospital in Utah, and we is the only Joint Commission Comprehensive Stroke Center in the state.

Speed is of the essence in treating stroke patients.

One of the ways to measure how well stroke patients are being treated at a particular hospital is to measure how quickly they are evaluated and started on the life-saving therapy tPA. At Intermountain Medical Center, they have some of the fastest treatment times in the country. Their average treatment times are well below the Utah average, the national average, and the average of all other Comprehensive Stroke Centers.

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