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Women's Stroke Symptoms Often Different

Too Many Cases Unrecognized, Leading to Delayed Treatment and Death

WebMD Health News

Oct. 25, 2002 -- Feeling disoriented, headache, chest pain -- for women, these are typical stroke symptoms. But because these symptoms are not typically reported by men having strokes, they often go unrecognized in the ER, and that may affect the treatment women get.

In fact, more women than men are dying of stroke, says a study appearing in this month's Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"Our findings have important consequences for stroke diagnosis and treatment," says researcher Lewis Morgenstern, MD, director of the Stroke Program and professor of epidemiology, emergency medicine, and neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School and School of Public Health, in a news release.

"All stroke treatments are time-dependent, so if women are not diagnosed promptly, it will slow down the effort to treat them," Morgenstern says.

The study was conducted at community hospitals in rural East Texas, where "stroke education" programs were given to the public through TV, newspapers, and other local media.

Researchers reviewed hospital records of 1,124 men and women who were diagnosed with stroke and reviewed scans to determine the type of stroke. Patients or family members were interviewed to determine the symptoms that prompted them to seek medical attention.

Nontraditional stroke symptoms include headache; face, arm, or leg pain; disorientation; and change in consciousness.

Their findings:

  • Nontraditional stroke symptoms were reported by 28% of women, including pain, disorientation, shortness of breath, and palpitations.
  • Only 19% of men reported nontraditional stroke symptoms; typically, men reported imbalance, paralysis of one side of the body, and difficulty walking.
  • Women reported nontraditional stroke symptoms 62% more often than men.

The study also found that women were more likely than men to have a brain hemorrhage -- hemorrhagic stroke -- when an artery in the brain bleeds or ruptures.

The type of stroke that women have might affect the symptoms they report, writes lead researcher Lise Labiche, MD, a stroke fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Because women report nontraditional symptoms, their treatment might be delayed as their condition is not recognized, In fact, some studies have shown increased death rates among women who have suffered a stroke, she says. "In Texas, 61% of stroke deaths occur in women."

Too many studies of stroke have involved men and not women.

"It is crucial to recognize that differences do occur between the genders," she says in a news release. "In stroke, prompt recognition of nontraditional stroke symptoms by patients, paramedics, and ER staff may increase the number of women receiving clot-dissolving drugs and reduce the disability they suffer." -->

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