‘Sobering Facts’ About Women and Stroke

sarah-song-mdBy Sarah Song, MD, MPH

Did you know that there are more women affected by stroke than men? Presently in the U.S., there are 3.8 million female stroke survivors, compared to 3 million male stroke survivors. Though stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in men, it is the third leading cause of death in women.

As our population ages, this divide between the genders will increase, with even more women having strokes than men. Not only that, but women are — for a variety of reasons — more likely to recover poorly from stroke, more likely to be in an institutional setting post-stroke, and more likely to be widowed and isolated after stroke.

These sobering facts emphasize that physicians need to be more passionate and proactive about preventing and treating stroke in women.

Identifying risk factors

The risk of stroke for women and men is different in many ways, not just because of hormones and genetics, but because of social factors, as well. Reproductive factors can influence a woman’s risk for stroke, and some medical conditions that are more common in women than in men can increase stroke risk.

For example, high blood pressure is the most significant treatable risk factor for both blood clot and bleeding strokes. Some studies have shown that women may have more high blood pressure than men as they age, perhaps due to hormonal blood pressure regulation.

Strokes can take many forms, from blood clots to bleeds, such as aneurysm ruptures. And aneurysms are more common in women than in men.

Like men, minority females are more likely to have more strokes than Caucasians. They are also less likely to know the signs and symptoms of stroke, limiting their ability to be treated for stroke on an emergency basis.

It is important to be able to identify which women are at an increased risk for stroke, and to make sure they are cared for, effectively, compassionately and from a 360-degree view.

It is equally essential to ensure that after a stroke, women have access to specialists who can best help them recover, from rehabilitation experts to social workers to expert medical consultants.

A focus on women’s needs

Stroke specialists at Rush understand that women are unique from men, that their risk factors may be unusual, and that they may require additional testing and treatment. That’s why we created the new Women’s Comprehensive Stroke Clinic.

For instance, some conditions that are more common in women, such as migraine headaches or epilepsy, may require different strategies to prevent or to treat strokes. Pregnancy can increase a woman’s risk for stroke, especially in the presence of other medical issues, as can genetic conditions that increase the thickness of blood. Effective nutrition and wellness may also positively impact women’s risk for stroke.

We hope to provide women of all ages a comprehensive approach to treating and preventing stroke, using a multidisciplinary approach with other specialists and experts.

If you are a woman who has been told you are at risk for having a stroke, has previously experienced a stroke and/or are interested in seeing a stroke doctor with a focus on caring for women, please call (888) 352-RUSH (7874) to be connected with a stroke specialist.

Sarah Song, MD, MPH, is a neurologist with Rush University Medical Center.

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