Stroke symptoms in women: Know the unique warning signs

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Stroke symptoms in women: Know the unique warning signs

Stroke symptoms in women — Find out what unique stroke symptoms occur in women.

Recognizing stroke symptoms, and getting quick diagnosis and treatment could mean the difference between life and death or permanent disability. But often, a woman's stroke symptoms don't fit the textbook signs causing delays in treatment.

Women having a stroke are more likely to delay seeking treatment than their male counterparts. A recent study looked at the medical records of women treated in an emergency room. Among women who were later treated for stroke, the study showed that many of them reported symptoms that were different from the typical stroke symptoms.

When you have a stroke, the blood supply to your brain is temporarily blocked, and a part of your brain doesn't get the oxygen and nutrients it needs. A stroke can cause brain cells to die within minutes. Learn to recognize both the classic symptoms and those unique to women to reduce your risk of disability from stroke.

Classic stroke symptoms

Know the classic stroke symptoms:

  • Sudden numbness, weakness, or paralysis of your face, arm or leg — usually on one side of your body
  • Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech (aphasia)
  • Sudden blurred, double or decreased vision
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination
  • A sudden, severe "bolt out of the blue" headache or an unusual headache, which may be accompanied by a stiff neck, facial pain, pain between your eyes, vomiting or altered consciousness
  • Confusion, or problems with memory, spatial orientation or perception

Stroke symptoms in women

The new research study shows that women may have traditional symptoms less often than men do, and they may be more likely to experience and report an alternative symptom first. This discrepancy may cause women to delay seeking help. A woman coming into the emergency department with facial weakness is quickly sent off for brain imaging, but when the main complaint is shortness of breath or fainting, it may be that neither the woman nor even emergency room personnel immediately suspect a stroke.

In addition to or instead of the traditional stroke signs, a woman may have:

  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Falls or accidents
  • Sudden pain in the face, chest, arms or legs
  • Seizure
  • Sudden hiccups
  • Sudden nausea
  • Sudden tiredness
  • Sudden pounding or racing heartbeat (palpitations)

While this new research is important, the traditional stroke warning signs are still the most common symptoms of stroke. The new findings are a helpful reminder — to both you and your doctor — that women may have different symptoms.

Know the warning signs

If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, don't hesitate. Rapid diagnosis and treatment improve your chances of survival and decrease your risk of permanent disability. To help you remember the classic symptoms what to look for, think FAST: face, arms, speech and time.

  • Face — Does one side of the face drop when asked to smile?
  • Arms — When raising both arms, does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech — When trying to repeat a simple sentence, are the words slurred or incorrect?
  • Time — Rush to emergency care immediately to get evaluated and treated.

As more research is done on women and stroke, primary care nurses and doctors are becoming more familiar with the stroke symptoms and signs that are unique to women.

If you're at risk of a stroke, your best defense is to know both the classic signs and symptoms and those that are unique to women. If you have any symptoms you worry might be a stroke, ask your doctor to evaluate you for a stroke.

Last Updated: 05/23/2007
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