When it comes to health and medicine, both men and women have many of the same medical conditions, but often with different symptoms or risk factors.
Stroke is one of the conditions where men and women have so much in common — yet so many distinctions.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke — sometimes called a "brain attack" — affects the arteries that bring blood to the brain. About 87% of strokes happen because a blood clot is blocking blood flow to the brain.
The other 13% of strokes are hemorrhagic, causing the blood vessel to burst and spill blood onto and around the brain. Both types can damage or destroy brain cells and can cause long-term effects, such as difficulty walking or even death.
The key to surviving a stroke is to get emergency medical treatment as soon as you see the signs.
Anyone can have a stroke, and a stroke is a serious medical condition, regardless of sex. However, men and women can experience strokes differently.
Here is how symptoms, seeking treatment, and risk factors are different in men and women — and also how they're the same.
10 Signs and Symptoms of Stroke
The sudden onset or worsening of the following signs and symptoms are hallmark characteristics of a stroke in both men and women, and can strike at any time:
- Confusion, being unable to think clearly
- Difficulty understanding language or speech
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Loss of balance, poor coordination
- Numbness or tingling in the face, legs, or arms
- Severe headache with no known cause
- Trouble walking, stumbling
- Difficulty speaking or slurred speech
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Weakness in the face, legs or arms — especially on just one side of your body
Many may be familiar with some or all of these symptoms of stroke. However, there are some less common ones, and women tend to report them more often than men.
These symptoms can include:
- Fainting or loss of consciousness
- Seizures or hallucinations
- Shortness of breath
- General body weakness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Hiccups (Yes, seriously)
These symptoms can occur along with the more common ones, or on their own.
2. Get Me to the Hospital On Time
Recognizing a stroke as quickly as possible is critical — the most effective treatments can only be given when the stroke is caught within hours of the first symptoms. If you think you may be having a stroke, call 9-1-1 right away for emergency care— do not drive yourself to the Emergency Room.
The gold standard treatment for strokes caused by clots is a medication called intravenous alteplase (tPA). Because this treatment needs to be given within hours of the start of a person's symptoms, access to treatment at a Primary Stroke Center, like Chester County Hospital, is critical.
As a Primary Stroke Center, Chester County Hospital provides round the clock services to evaluate the cause of stroke and the needs for advanced treatment options, which are available through the Comprehensive Stroke Center at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
3. Risky Business for Both Men and Women
Strokes can happen out of the blue. Even if you actively try to live a healthy lifestyle, there are some risk factors that are out of your hands, like a family history of stroke.
However, there are other common risk factors that are a little more in your control:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- A diet that is high in salt (sodium), fats, and cholesterol
- Frequent alcohol use
- Smoking cigarettes
There are also some gender differences when it comes to a few particular risk factors.
For example, men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with diabetes, smoke cigarettes, or be heavy drinkers, which can put them at an increased risk for stroke.
On the other hand, there are a few risk factors that mainly apply to women. Women may be at a higher risk for stroke if they:
- Are pregnant: Natural changes in the body that occur during pregnancy, such as stress on the heart or increased blood pressure, can increase stroke risk.
- Take birth control pills: The jury is still out on exactly how much these pills can increase your risk. Recent research suggests that it mainly increases the risk in women with other stroke risk factors, like obesity or high blood pressure. If you don't have other risk factors, there's still an increased risk of stroke from birth control, but it's very small.
- Use hormone replacement therapy (HRT): HRT can relieve symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, but it can also increase the risk of stroke. However, this has become a hot research topic and newer studies question whether or not this is true.
- Suffer from migraines: Migraines can increase the risk of stroke by 2.5 times — and most Americans with migraines are women.
- Have certain mental health issues: Depression, anxiety, and stress are associated with a higher risk of stroke, and these conditions are more common in women than men.
- Have atrial fibrillation (AFib): AFib is an abnormal heartbeat. While it's common in both men and women, it's more likely to be a risk factor for stroke in women. Also, women with AFib tend to have more debilitating strokes.
Whether you're a man or woman, getting help immediately is the best way to treat a stroke and prevent long-lasting effects.
Find out if you're at risk for stroke by getting a stroke screening. A Chester County Hospital registered nurse will run a few quick tests (such as checking your blood pressure and cholesterol), review your medical history, and evaluate your risk. They will then help you develop a personal care plan to decrease your stroke risk and improve heart health. Call 610-738-2300 to learn upcoming dates for these free stroke screenings.
To learn about how you can protect yourself from stroke, call 1-800-789-PENN (7366) to find a Chester County Hospital provider near you.