12 signs of a stroke in women – how to identify them

Did you know that women have stroke symptoms that men don’t typically experience? Since stroke treatment is extremely time-sensitive, recognizing the signs of a stroke in women and calling an ambulance in time can be a matter of life or death. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the unique symptoms that women experience when having a stroke. We’ll also explore the reasons why women have a higher risk of stroke than men and look at some of the most effective ways to prevent and treat a stroke.

What causes a stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood clots or other particles cut off blood flow to the brain or a blood vessel in the brain bursts. As a result, brain cells can’t get enough oxygen and they start to die within minutes. This can cause long-lasting damage to parts of the brain, disability or death. 

According to the CDC, about 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year. (1) It is a major cause of long-term disability and the fifth leading cause of death in the US. Each year, about 140,000 Americans die of stroke.

The symptoms of stroke in women are not restricted to the typical set of symptoms experienced by men, which can cause delays in diagnosis. 

However, strokes can be prevented and, if they are diagnosed in time, they can be treated as well. CogniFit’s stroke rehabilitation exercises serve to aid cognitive recovery after a stroke by enabling the stimulation and rehabilitation of some of the major sequelae of stroke.

Symptoms of stroke in females

Do women have a higher risk of stroke?

Women have a higher risk of stroke than men, and they are also more likely to die from a stroke. One of the main reasons for this is that women live longer than men, and age is a significant risk factor for stroke. (2) This is why it’s so important to recognize the symptoms of stroke in women.

There are other factors that put women at a higher risk of stroke, including:

  • High blood pressure: Women who are 65 and older are more likely to develop high blood pressure than men, which increases their risk of stroke. (3)
  • Hormonal birth control: Blood clots are a potential side effect of taking hormonal birth control pills.
  • Pregnancy: Developing high blood pressure during pregnancy (gestational hypertension) increases the risk of stroke in women. A serious condition called preeclampsia, which is closely related to gestational hypertension, can also result in a stroke. 
  • Atrial fibrillation: Women have a higher risk of atrial fibrillation or irregular heart rhythm than men. This condition increases stroke risk among women over 75 by 20%. (4)
  • Migraines with aura: Migraines accompanied by aura are thought to increase the risk of stroke in younger women, especially those who smoke or take birth control pills. 

The signs of a stroke in women are similar to those in men, however, there are some symptoms that are unique to women. These are often subtle and can be easily missed or mistaken for symptoms of other, less serious issues, such as stress.

What are the signs of a stroke in a woman?

Both men and women who are having a stroke can experience the following typical set of symptoms:

  • Numbness or drooping in your face
  • Weakness in your arm (especially on one side of the body)
  • Confusion, trouble understanding people, difficulty speaking
  • Trouble seeing
  • Difficulty walking or staying balanced, lack of coordination, dizziness
  • Severe headache that comes out of the blue

These symptoms of a stroke in women and men can be quickly identified by using the F.A.S.T. test:

FaceSmile. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
ArmRaise both arms. Does one arm drop down? Is it weak or numb?
SpeechRepeat a phrase. Is speech slurred or hard to understand?
TimeIf you recognize any of the above symptoms, it’s time to call 911 or your country’s emergency services right away.

Next to the symptoms commonly experienced by both genders, women can have other signs of stroke which are often more understated and harder to recognize. (5)

The unique signs of a stroke in women are:

  • General weakness 
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Disorientation, confusion, unresponsiveness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden behavioral change
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Hiccups

It’s essential that women do not dismiss the signs of a woman having a stroke because their life could depend on it. 

In case you are having a stroke, you must call an ambulance and get to a hospital immediately. There is no time to call your doctor or drive yourself to the hospital. 

For stroke treatment to be effective, the stroke must be diagnosed within 3-4.5 hours of the first symptoms. (4) Delay in treatment can lead to brain damage or disability.

How to prevent a stroke in women

How to prevent a stroke

The good news is that strokes can be prevented. Now that you know what the signs of stroke in females are, let’s take a look at some ways to avoid having a stroke in the first place. 

Here are a few things you can do to prevent a stroke:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight
  • Quit smoking
  • Lower your blood pressure: High blood pressure is the biggest risk of stroke in women and men. Make sure you monitor your blood pressure and treat high blood pressure if you already have it. 
  • Treat underlying conditions such as atrial fibrillation or diabetes which put you at a higher risk of stroke

Women should pay extra attention to the factors that put them at risk. If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or have recently given birth, monitor your blood pressure consistently. Likewise, if you’d like to start taking birth control pills, make sure your doctor orders a screening for high blood pressure.

Stroke treatment and recovery 

Once the signs of a woman having a stroke have been identified, she must be taken to the hospital immediately. There, the doctor will run some tests and prepare a diagnosis. 

The treatment the patient receives depends on the type of stroke she has had. 

Ischemic strokes – which happen when the culprit is a blood clot – are most commonly treated by administering medication. Surgery can also be used to break up the clots and unclog the artery.

Hemorrhagic strokes – which are caused by the rupturing of an artery in the brain – can be treated with medication or surgery, depending on what causes the artery to rupture. 

Stroke treatment methods are the same for men and women. However, gender seems to have something to do with the quality of emergency treatment that a stroke patient receives. 

Research has suggested that women have to wait longer to be diagnosed once they arrive in the ER. This hypothesis was confirmed by a 2009 study, which found that women had 11% longer door-to-doctor intervals and 15% longer door-to-image intervals than men. (6) However, according to the researchers, the delays that women with acute stroke experienced were not attributable to the differences in symptoms of stroke in women and men. 

After having a stroke, patients must be rehabilitated to reduce, compensate for, and recover brain damage. Stroke recovery regimes are usually made up of a combination of physical therapy and speech therapy, which can be done at home or in a rehabilitation center. Some patients may need to re-learn how to walk, talk and perform physical activities. 

Digital stroke rehabilitation exercises can also be used to regain cognitive skills such as hand-eye coordination, naming, perception (vision and hearing), memory, attention span, and planning skills. 

We’ve seen that the signs of a woman having a stroke can differ from the symptoms men experience, but what about recovery? Is there any difference between the genders?

Studies have found that women take longer to recover from a stroke than men. (7) Additionally, women are more likely to be disabled after a stroke than men. This may be because when women have a stroke, they are older and their pre-stroke physical state is poorer than that of men. 

Women also tend to be more depressed after a stroke than men, which can hinder recovery. (8)

Conclusions about the signs of a stroke in women

Stroke is a leading cause of disability and death around the world. In order to decrease stroke incidences, it’s essential to be aware of the differences in the signs of stroke in women and men so that we can provide both genders with sufficient prevention, diagnostics, and treatment.  

While men only experience the typical set of stroke symptoms – face drooping, arm weakness, confusion, trouble seeing, difficulty walking and a severe headache – women can also have more subtle or less easily identifiable symptoms such as general weakness, fatigue, fainting, shortness of breath, disorientation, nausea, agitation, a sudden change in behavior, seizures, hallucination, pain and hiccups. 

References

(1) https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm

(2) https://www.healthline.com/health/stroke/symptoms-of-stroke-in-women

(3) https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/why-high-blood-pressure-is-a-silent-killer/high-blood-pressure-and-women

(4) https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/stroke-risk-factors/women-have-a-higher-risk-of-stroke

(5) https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/05/31/is-it-fatigue-or-a-stroke-women-shouldnt-ignore-these-warning-signs

(6) Gargano, J.W., Wehner, S., Reeves, M.J. (2009). Do presenting symptoms explain sex differences in emergency department delays among patients with acute stroke? Stroke, 40(4), 1114-1120. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1161/STROKEAHA.108.543116

(7) Persky, R. W., Turtzo, L. C., & McCullough, L. D. (2010). Stroke in women: disparities and outcomes. Current cardiology reports, 12(1), 6–13. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11886-009-0080-2

(8) Lai, S. M., Duncan, P. W., Dew, P., & Keighley, J. (2005). Sex differences in stroke recovery. Preventing chronic disease, 2(3), A13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1364522/