Stroke Symptoms You Should Never Ignore
Let’s be honest: When people hear someone has suffered a cardiovascular incident, they rarely imagine it’s a woman in her 40s or 50s. More often, they imagine an elderly man clutching his chest on the way to his grandkid’s baseball game or on a grocery run for his wife. Hollywood may be to blame for creating this false image, but regardless of where this misconception comes from, it bears correction: Not only can cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke, happen to women, they in fact disproportionately do so.
Consider these statistics from the American Stroke Association:
- Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death for U.S. women and kills twice as many of us as breast cancer.
- Each year, about 55,000 more women have strokes than men, and because we tend to live longer, strokes have a greater impact on our total quality of life.
- High blood pressure is the most well-known risk factor for stroke. Nearly one third of Hispanic women and almost 50 percent of African American women have this condition, putting them at increased risk.
A handy shorthand for the most common warning signs of a stroke is: F.A.S.T.: If you experience (F) face drooping, (A) arm weakness, or (S) speech difficulty, it’s (T) time to call 911.
Sadly, when it comes to stroke, time is of the essence as two million brain cells die every second one goes untreated during a stroke emergency. For this reason, it’s critical that women of all ages, but particularly those forty and older, be on the lookout for F.A.S.T. and for subtle signs of stroke. These include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs, especially on one side of the body: Losing feeling or strength on one side of your body is a common sign of stroke, especially in your limbs. Your face may also droop and lose strength. Those experiencing this symptom – to any degree – should seek immediate medical attention.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding: Slurred speech, difficulty speaking, or trouble understanding others are also key indicators. Some patients don’t recognize this symptom until it’s pointed out to them. If someone says you sound different, take this seriously, particularly if it’s accompanied by the experience of another symptom on this list.
- Sudden loss of sight or blurred vision in one or both eyes: You might lose sight or have blurred vision in one or both eyes if you’re having a stroke. Specifically, it’s common to lose the same field of vision in both eyes. For example, you might be unable to look to the right in both of your eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination: You may become dizzy, lose your balance or faint during or after a stroke. For some patients, this symptom starts slowly, and they are reluctant to believe it could be attributed to experiencing a stroke. It is important to remember that these symptoms are not normal and do require immediate medical attention.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause: Headaches are one of the sneakiest symptoms of stroke because they can have a myriad of other causes. That said, headaches that are severe and sudden are common symptoms of hemorrhagic strokes, which while less common than ischemic strokes, are more dangerous.
If you or someone you know is suffering from any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Even if the symptoms are minor and/or last only a few minutes, they could indicate a transient ischemic attack or “mini stroke,” which may signal a more severe stroke ahead and should be taken just as seriously. Remember: No stroke is minor, and time is brain. The sooner the treatment, the better the recovery.
Women who have had a stroke are at increased risk of having another one. Aspirin is commonly used to help prevent second clot-related strokes, but it’s important to talk to a doctor before starting an aspirin regimen.
While it is imperative to know the signs of stroke and what to do when one occurs, there is good news: Up to 80 percent of first and second strokes may be preventable. By managing a healthy life style and taking doctor-directed medication to maintain risk factors like high blood pressure, you may be able to stop it before it starts.
For more about Dr. Bauman’s work, click on her byline (above).