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Stroke Health Center

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Women Often Unaware of Stroke Risk

Survey Shows Many of the Most at-Risk Women Can't Identify Risk Factors for Stroke

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 factors.

But on average they were able to identify less than three out of the following six classic warning signs of stroke:

"The perception has largely been that stroke is a disease of older men," Richard C. Becker, MD, of the Duke University Medical Center Cardiovascular Thrombosis Center, tells WebMD. "Women tend to have strokes at older ages, but their strokes also tend to be bigger and more disabling."

McCullough says men are more likely to consider themselves at risk for stroke than women, in part because education campaigns have traditionally targeted men.

"Men worry about heart attack and stroke and women worry about breast cancer, because breast cancer awareness campaigns have been so successful," she says. "But far more women will die from stroke than breast cancer or any cancer."

Early Treatment Saves Lives

Getting women to recognize their stroke risk is critical because delaying treatment can be deadly. Clot-busting drugs, which save lives and lessen stroke damage, can only be given within the first few hours after symptoms begin.

Because she sought treatment so quickly, Toomey was treated with a clot buster.

"It saved my life, but I was still left paralyzed on my left side," she says.

Last year the AHA, in collaboration with other health groups, launched a campaign designed to raise awareness about stroke symptoms called "Give Me 5 for Stroke."

The campaign urges people to call 911 immediately if the following symptoms occur suddenly:

  • Walk -- Is their balance off?
  • Talk -- Is their speech slurred or face droopy?
  • Reach -- Is one side weak or numb?
  • See -- Is their vision all or partially lost?
  • Feel -- Is their headache severe?

"We have found that those who are at the greatest risk are those who are least aware," Massachusetts General Hospital vice chairman of neurology and AHA spokesman Lee H. Schwamm, MD, tells WebMD. "That is why it is so important to get this message out there to everyone."

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