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Important Facts about Strokes and Increased Danger for Women

Most of us know how dangerous strokes are. While strokes can and often are lethal, they also can cause varying degrees of brain damage, paralysis, and severe cognitive deficits. Often the amount of time that elapses between the stroke and treatment determines the patient’s recovery or permanent damage.

Stroke is currently the fourth leading cause of death in the United States today, and surprisingly affects approximately 55,000 more women than men each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because women are at greater risk for strokes than men, it is crucial that women are able to recognize stroke symptoms and know that rapid medical response is essential. It’s also important for anyone with stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, high cholesterol and being overweight to make sure their spouse or families are also aware what to do in an emergency or if they suspect stroke.

According to the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, women should be aware of medications or medical conditions that may affect their stroke risk. First, women who are considering using birth control pills should get screened for high blood pressure, because oral contraceptives can increase the risk of blood clots and stroke. Pregnant women who have a history of high blood pressure should ask their doctor about their risk, as there may be increased risk of developing preeclampsia or stroke during pregnancy or post-partum. There are simple treatments that may reduce risk such as taking low-dose aspirin or calcium supplements while pregnant. Women over 75 should be screened for atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke and can be treated with medication or surgery. Finally, as with most health problems, quitting smoking, regular exercise and healthful eating are the best ways to reduce risk overall, for women and men.

While prevention and reducing risk factors for stroke is important, sometimes strokes are inevitable. A recent study found that 1 in 5 women can’t identify a single warning sign of stroke. The classic symptoms of a stroke are a drooping face, speech difficulty, or weakness or numbness in one of the arms. But, lesser-known and more ambiguous symptoms can include a sudden onset of dizziness, severe headache or vision loss. New guidelines suggest using the mnemonic FAST to remember the symptoms: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech trouble, and Time to call 911 immediately. According to Dr. Larry Goldstein, a neurologist and the director of the Duke Comprehensive Stroke Center, the most important thing to remember and watch for is “an abrupt change neurologically – any abrupt change. That could be a stroke and that needs to be taken seriously.”

So, if someone is exhibiting stroke symptoms, what should be done? You should call 9-1-1 immediately. Also try and pinpoint the time that symptoms began and relay this critical information to medical professionals. Any details you can give are invaluable in the immediate treatment of a stroke.

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