Women and stroke: What you need to know

Posted by Katie Pace, R.N., stroke coordinator
September 20, 2016

Stroke 350x350

Ladies, the statistics are not in our favor. Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women, and each year 55,000 more women than men have a stroke. According to the National Stroke Association, each year stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer. In addition, the use of oral contraceptives, pregnancy, history of pre-clampsia/eclampsia, gestational diabetes and post-menopausal hormone therapy pose special stroke risks for women.

In fact, a stroke occurs approximately every 40 seconds in the United States.

A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or severely reduced, which deprives brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells start to die. A stroke is a medical emergency and getting treatment as quickly as possible is a matter of….well, you know.

A stroke may be caused by a blocked or narrowed artery in the brain or by a leaking or ruptured blood vessel in the brain.

There is good news: we can do something about all this.

Know the warning signs

It’s important to learn the many warning signs of a stroke. Once you know the signs, get to the hospital immediately when the first symptoms appear.

The key to identifying these symptoms is that they come on very suddenly, and there’s an acronym to make it easy to recognize and act on these symptoms: Think “FAST”.

Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?

Arms. Ask the person to lift up both arms. Does one arm drift downward, or is one arm unable to raise up?

Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple or common phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange-sounding?

Time. If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to call 911 — immediately.

You may be tempted to downplay these symptoms and not want to go to the hospital. This is normal but ill-advised. You need to get to the hospital where experts are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of stroke. With time being so critical in the care of stroke patients, the best thing you can do is call 911. DO NOT drive yourself the hospital.

Risk factors

About 80 percent of strokes are preventable. Many factors that increase a person’s risk of stroke, and some of these also increase the risk of a heart attack. They include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Physical inactivity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Personal or family history of stroke or heart attack
  • Being age 55 or older


It’s worth repeating: If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms of a stroke (Think FAST), call 911 and get to a hospital right away. Treatment for a stroke depends on whether you have a narrowed or blocked brain artery, in which case clot-busting medications may be used. Or if you have a ruptured brain artery, surgery may be more appropriate.

Personal plea

I’m fortunate to work with highly skilled clinicians and others who diagnose and treat stroke on an almost daily basis. I see firsthand the positive impact early recognition and early treatment of stroke has on saving lives and helping people recover from a stroke. I know how important it is to become educated on the symptoms of a stroke and to seek emergency medical care right away.

Please, for yourself, your family and everyone else you care about, take time to know the symptoms of a stroke (Think FAST), encourage others to become aware as well and learn about your personal risk factors. That way, if or when we meet, it’s less likely to be in the Emergency Department.

Katie Pace is a Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato registered nurse and stroke coordinator.

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Comments (1)

You missed undiagnosed SLEEP APNEA. Women are underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed, sleep apnea can become more common around menopause due to hormonal changes and their effects, and women are more likely to cite exhaustion, fatigue, tiredness than "sleepiness". And, untreated sleep apnea is associated with or implicated in the development of many other things on that list! Help women prevent strokes -- check their sleep!

Sbg - 09/20/2016

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