“There are some stroke symptoms that men and women have in common, like dizziness, severe headache, and numbness on one side of the body,” says Andrea Becker, MD, cardiologist at Lankenau Medical Center, Main Line Health. “But what most women don’t know is that there are some symptoms that are unique to them, and failing to recognize that could be dangerous.”
These symptoms tend to be vague, and, for some women, may not seem alarming or take them by surprise. But Dr. Becker says it’s important to watch out for red flags like face and limb pain, shortness of breath, or the sudden onset of hiccups, nausea, chest pain, or heart palpitations, which are all unique to women.
Although a stroke can be dangerous, women are more likely to die from a stroke than men are.
“Women tend to be older when they have a stroke and have a difficult time recovering,” says Dr. Becker. “Understanding your symptoms for stroke before you need to could save a life.”
In addition to having unique stroke symptoms, women also have additional risk factors to consider. Taking birth control pills, carrying too much weight in the abdomen, hormone replacement therapy, and suffering from frequent migraines are all risk factors that are specific to women. If one or more of these risk factors affects you, communicate it to your physician.
“Having a risk factor for stroke doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen to you,” explains Dr. Becker. “But by making your physician aware of these risks, they will be able to better monitor your heart health and alert you to any issues.”
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent or lessen your risk for a stroke, and they’re effective for men and women. Maintain a healthy weight by eating more fruits and vegetables and lowering the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet, and control your blood pressure levels to avoid hypertension. Also, if you’re a smoker, quit smoking entirely. Although it’s not an exclusive risk for women, Dr. Becker says tobacco use is more of a contributing risk factor for women than men.
If you suffer from health conditions like diabetes or sleep apnea, talk to your physician about how to control them. Following these guidelines can reduce your risk for stroke and improve your overall heart health.