Feb. 8, 2007 (San Francisco) -- Female 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 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.
"It's a quandary," says American Stroke Association spokesman Larry Goldstein, MD, a neurologist at Duke University who was not involved with the work.
"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
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, 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 cholesterol , and tummy fat -- among women, says researcher Amytis Towfighi, MD, of the UCLA Stroke Center.
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 2002.