Most women don’t know their stroke risk. Do you?

April 22, 2014 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn
doctor talking to his female patient at office

Every year, stroke kills more women than men. In fact, stroke kills twice as many women per year as breast cancer does, but 70 percent of women in a recent study published in the journal Stroke didn’t know that stroke was a significant health risk for them, weren’t aware of what factors increased their risk and did not know the early warning signs of stroke.

Stroke is one of the most prevalent health problems in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 795,000 people have a stroke each year, and 130,000 of them die as a result. First-time stroke patients account for about 610,000 of all cases, underscoring the need for people to learn the early warning signs of a stroke and how they can lower their risk of having a stroke.

Stroke warning sign awareness low among women
In the study published in Stroke, researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center reviewed the relative knowledge of the warning signs of stroke among 1,205 women in the U.S. They surveyed the participants’ awareness of stroke warning signs and what they should do when these signs occur.

The data revealed that the majority of participants (84 percent) reported that they would call 9-1-1 if they recognized a stroke was occurring. However, only 51 percent correctly identified sudden weakness or numbness of the face or limb on one side of the body as a warning sign. An even smaller number of participants – 44 percent – reported knowing that difficulty talking or understanding speech was a warning sign, and only 23 percent said a sudden, severe headache was cause for concern. In addition, 1 in 5 women could not identify a single precursor to a stroke.

New guidelines for prevention of stroke in women’s
One factors contributing to women’s low knowledge of stroke warning signs may be a lack of awareness of the risk factors associated with stroke. The American Heart Association recently published a comprehensive set of medical conditions and lifestyle factors that may increase stroke risk among women. These include:

  • A history of high blood pressure before pregnancy
  • Preeclampsia or gestational diabetes during pregnancy
  • A history of smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Women over age 75, who have atrial fibrillation
  • Migraine headaches, accompanied by the perceptual disturbance, known as an aura

To reduce stroke risk, women should make a number of simple lifestyle changes, including eating the right foods and exercising regularly, which can dramatically reduce blood pressure, and, as a result, risk of stroke as well. In addition, women should work closely with their physicians to monitor and control blood pressure, cholesterol, stress and other risk factors.