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Gender Gap in Stroke Symptoms?

Study: Women May Be More Likely Than Men to Experience 'Nontraditional' Stroke Symptoms
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 16, 2009 -- Women may be more likely than men to have "nontraditional" stroke symptoms, especially disorientation, confusion, or loss of consciousness, according to a new study.

The University of Michigan's Lynda Lisabeth, PhD, and colleagues studied 470 people who were treated at the University of Michigan Hospital for ischemic (clot-related) stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack). They didn't study people who had hemorrhagic (bleeding) strokes.

Most strokes are ischemic. In an ischemic stroke, a blood clot interrupts the blood supply to part of the brain. A similar thing happens in a TIA; the symptoms of TIA are similar to a stroke, but they don't last. TIAs are often called "mini strokes."

Well-known symptoms of stroke or TIA include:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body.
  • Abrupt loss of vision, strength, coordination, sensation, speech or the ability to understand speech. These symptoms may become more marked over time.
  • Sudden dimness of vision, especially in one eye.
  • Sudden loss of balance, possibly accompanied by vomiting, nausea, fever, hiccups, or trouble with swallowing.
  • Sudden and severe headache with no other cause followed rapidly by loss of consciousness -- indications of a stroke due to bleeding.
  • Brief loss of consciousness.
  • Unexplained dizziness or sudden falls.

Stroke is a medical emergency, so call 911 if you or someone you know experiences stroke symptoms. And do so as soon as possible -- clot-busting stroke drugs must be given ASAP.

Studying Stroke Symptoms

The new study, published in the June 1 edition of Stroke, defines nontraditional stroke symptoms as including:

  • Pain in the face or half of the body
  • Mental change status (disorientation, confusion, or loss of consciousness)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • General neurological symptoms (nausea, hiccups, weakness)
  • Non-neurological symptoms (chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath)

"Traditional" stroke symptoms included:

  • Numbness or paralysis on one side of the body
  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Double vision or other vision problems
  • Facial weakness
  • Coordination problems
  • Vertigo

Lisabeth's team asked the patients (or a friend or relative, if the patient couldn't speak) about the patients' stroke symptoms.

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