Stroke Symptoms May Differ in Women
Women Less Likely to Report Classic Symptoms
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 8, 2007 (San Francisco) -- Female stroke victims are less likely to
report classic stroke symptoms than men -- one possible explanation for why
they aren't as likely to get a crucial stroke drug.
The new research found that female stroke victims are 33% less likely to
report a classic stroke symptom when they arrive at the emergency room than
their male counterparts.
The finding comes at a time when research shows women who suffer strokes are
much less likely to be given the clot-busting drug tPA than men, notes
researcher Julia Warner Gargano, MS, an epidemiologist at Michigan State
University in East Lansing.
The most common type of stroke, an ischemic stroke, occurs when blood flow
to an area of the brain is compromised by a blood clot. This leads to the death
of brain cells and brain damage.
“It’s a quandary,” says American Stroke Association spokesman Larry
Goldstein, MD, a neurologist at Duke University who was not involved with the
“Women tend to have more symptoms that are very vague, so it’s hard to
ascribe them to stroke. And if it’s not promptly diagnosed as stroke, it won’t
be treated as a stroke,” he tells WebMD.
“If a woman tends to have a lot of headaches and she comes in with another
headache, why would you even begin to think it’s a stroke?” Goldstein asks.
Gargano's study was presented here at the American Stroke Association’s
International Stroke Conference 2007.
Fainting a Common Complaint
For the study, researchers reviewed the records of 1,724 people who were
ultimately confirmed to have had a stroke.
Nine percent of the men and 13% of the women did not report any of the five
classic stroke warning signs: sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or
leg, especially on one side; sudden confusion or trouble speaking; sudden
trouble seeing; difficulty walking, dizziness or loss of balance; or a sudden
severe headache with no known cause.
The most common complaints among women without any of the five warning
signs: loss of consciousness or fainting, difficulty breathing, pain, and
Gargano says additional research is needed to determine if the
uncharacteristic symptoms explain why women experience treatment delays.
According to the American Stroke Association, 373,000 women suffered a
stroke in 2004 vs. 327,000 men.
And 91,487 women died of a stroke that year vs. 58,660 men.
Women Have More Stroke Risk Factors
Also at the meeting, Los Angeles researchers reported that women aged 45 to
54 are twice as likely to report having had a stroke than men.
The reason: A high rate of stroke risk factors -- including plaque-clogged
arteries leading to the brain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and tummy
fat -- among women, says researcher Amytis Towfighi, MD, of the UCLA Stroke
“Less than half of women knew what healthy blood pressure and cholesterol
levels are, and less than half knew their own reading,” she says.
Making matters worse: Health care practitioners also underestimated women’s
risk factors, she says.
“The more women learn about the warning signs, symptoms, and treatment of
stroke, the more they can help themselves, Towfighi tells WebMD.
For their study, the researchers analyzed data collected by the National
Center for Health Statistics on more than 15,000 adults between 1999 and