Women Often Unaware of Stroke Risk
Survey Shows Many of the Most at-Risk Women Can't Identify Risk Factors for Stroke
Feb. 11, 2009 -- Even though she was a practicing nurse at the time, Louise
Toomey did not recognize what was happening when she had her stroke seven years
ago. Luckily, her husband did.
"We were in a restaurant and I had a really bad migraine," she tells
WebMD. "I had spots in front of my eyes when I tried to read the menu. Then
my husband noticed a little droop on one side of my face and he said to the
waitress, 'Forget about ordering, call 911."
Even though Toomey had a family history of cardiovascular disease and was
overweight -- two big risk factors for stroke -- she says she did not consider
herself to be at high risk when she had her stroke at age 58.
"It was completely out of the blue," she says. "I knew I was at
risk for heart attack, but didn't really think much about stroke."
Women at Risk for Stroke
Stroke is a leading killer of women, but a new survey reveals that, like
Toomey, many of the most vulnerable women don't understand the extent of their
Researchers surveyed just over 200 women between the ages of 50 and 73 in an
effort to gauge their knowledge of stroke signs and symptoms and their own
individual risk. Most of the women were white, and many were of higher income
and well educated.
The survey findings were published in a special women-focused issue of the
American Heart Association (AHA) journal Stroke.
The women in the survey were all patients from the University of Connecticut
Cardiology Center. All of them had at least one major risk factor for stroke,
including hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and an irregular heart
rhythm (atrial fibrillation).
But the survey made it clear that many women did not associate their own
health conditions with an increased risk for stroke.
The survey shows that:
- Only seven of 37 women (19%) with irregular heart rhythm and 11 of 71 (15%)
with known heart disease identified these conditions as risk factors for
- Just 3% of the women surveyed correctly identified irregular heart rhythm
as a stroke risk factor; 16% identified heart disease and 36% identified
diabetes as risk factors.
- Two-thirds of the women considered their health to be good or excellent;
about 70% said they rarely or never worried about stroke.
"It was surprising to me how many of these women who were in this
high-risk clinic, with identified cardiovascular disease, didn't recognize very
important risk factors for stroke," researcher Louise McCullough, MD, PhD,
Identifying Stroke Risk Factors
Roughly half of the women who responded to the survey correctly identified
lack of exercise and high cholesterol as stroke risk factors, and even higher
numbers identified being overweight, smoking, and high blood pressure as risk