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Stroke and women

Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer every year.

However, women in a recent survey believed breast cancer is five times more prevalent than stroke and 40 percent of women said they were only somewhat or not at all concerned about experiencing a stroke in their life.

Did you know?
• 425,000 women suffer from stroke each year, 55,000 more than men.

• Only 27 percent of women could name more than two of the six primary stroke symptoms.
• Seven out of 10 women said they are not aware they are more likely than men to have a stroke, and were not at all or only somewhat knowledgeable about risk factors.
• African-American women suffer a significantly higher number of strokes than Caucasian women, yet African American women were less likely to correctly identify what causes a stroke compared to Caucasian women.
• Stroke is a leading cause of death for Hispanic women but Hispanic women were significantly less aware of stroke symptoms than Caucasian women.

The survey was commissioned by HealthyWomen, the nation's leading independent health information source for women, in partnership with National Stroke Association and the American College of Emergency Physicians. Conducted by Harris Interactive in 2010, support for the survey was provided by Genentech Inc., a wholly-owned member of the Roche Group.

Women's stroke risk
One way you can improve your odds for not having a stroke is to learn about the lifestyle changes and medicines that can lower your stroke risk.

Some risk factors are the same for men and women:
• a family history of stroke
• high blood pressure
• high cholesterol
• smoking
• diabetes
• being overweight
• not exercising

Other risks are unique to women:
• taking birth control pills
• 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
• having a thick waist and high triglyceride (blood fat) level; post-menopausal women with a waist size larger than 35.2 inches and a triglyceride level higher than 128 milligrams per liter may have a five-fold increased risk for stroke
• being a migraine headache sufferer; migraines can increase a woman's stroke risk 3-6 times, and most Americans who suffer migraines are women.

To understand and control your particular stroke risk, talk to your doctor.

Unique symptoms in women
It is important to recognize stroke symptoms and act quickly.

Common stroke symptoms seen in both men and women:
• sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg -- especially on one side of the body
• sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
• sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
• sudden severe headache with no known cause

Women may report unique stroke symptoms:
• sudden face and limb pain
• sudden hiccups
• sudden nausea
• sudden general weakness
• sudden chest pain
• sudden shortness of breath
• sudden palpitations

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you have any of these symptoms

Every minute counts for stroke patients and acting F.A.S.T. can lead patients to the stroke treatments they desperately need. The most effective stroke treatments are only available if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within the first three hours of the first symptoms. Actually, many Americans are not aware that stroke patients may not be eligible for stroke treatments if they arrive at the hospital after the three-hour window.

If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. and do this simple test:
F - FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A - ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S - SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

T - TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

NOTE THE TIME WHEN ANY SYMPTOMS FIRST APPEAR. If given within three hours of the first symptom, there is an FDA-approved clot-buster medication that may reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.

Learn as many stroke symptoms as possible so you can recognize stroke as FAST as possible.

“Understanding the warning signs is important because there are treatments we can give for stroke. If you understand the warning signs and get to the hospital quickly we can even possibly reverse the stroke itself,” says Dr. Dawn Kleindorfer, assistant professor of neurology at University of Cincinnati School of Medicine

Stroke causes special problems for women
Dr. Kleindorfer says stroke causes special problems for women, “Stroke uniquely impacts women because they tend to be older when they have their stroke and because of that, more women die from stroke than men. Women tend to have more disability and have trouble doing the activities of their daily living after their stroke.”

Women are caregivers
Managing your stroke risk is important but does not guarantee that you won't be touched by stroke in some way or another. Stroke will affect 4 out of 5 families over the course of a lifetime.

Those lucky enough to survive strokes will often need a family caregiver, and more than half (59-75%) of all family caregivers in the United States are women. In fact, the average caregiver is a married 46-year-old working woman earning $36,000 per year.

Caregiving is vital to the recovery process but can be overwhelming for the caregiver. If you find yourself caring for a stroke survivor, consult the National Stroke Association for steps you can take to make the transition from hospital to home easier on everyone.

This information was developed by the National Stroke Association and is herewith used with permission.

National Stroke Association. Women and Stroke. Available at: Last accessed October 30, 2012.

The information in this document is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. Although the information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, MedLink Corporation, its representatives, and the providers of the information do not guarantee its accuracy and disclaim responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its use. For further information, consult a physician and the organization referred to herein.

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