Did you know that stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer each year? In fact, stroke is the third leading cause of death in women.

"Women make up more than half of the nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. who have a stroke each year. Many are left disabled. Others have their lives cut tragically short," said BCH neurologist Alan Zacharias, MD, of Associated Neurologists during a free health lecture held on Feb. 6 at the Lionsgate Event Center in Lafayette.

The good news, according to Dr. Zacharias, is that simply understanding their unique risk factors and recognizing stroke symptoms can empower women to take action before they suffer serious complications.

Signs of Stroke in Both Men and Women
Stroke affects people of all ages. There are a number of stroke symptoms common to both men and women.

Dr. Zacharias said the acronym F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember these common symptoms:

  • FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • TIME: If you observe any of these signs - call 9-1-1 IMMEDIATELY!

"Never wait to see if these symptoms will go away!" Dr. Zacharias warned. "You need to act on any of these symptoms quickly to save yourself or a loved one from potential disability or death. When it comes to stroke, time is of the essence."

If you suspect stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. Also, check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Women's Unique Symptoms
Women can also have subtler warning signs. "They sometimes have more vague complaints, making it difficult to associate these signs with stroke. This can delay treatment. As a result, women are more likely than men to live in a long-term health care facility and have worse outcomes afterwards," said Dr. Zacharias.

Learn to recognize these unique symptoms for women so you'll be able to get help quickly:

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Generalized weakness
  • Confusion or agitation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Hiccups

Women's Unique Risk Factors
Women and men share many of the same risk factors. According to Dr. Zacharias, up to 80 percent of all strokes are preventable through managing these risks:

  • High blood pressure (the No. 1 risk factor)
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Atrial fibrillation (type of irregular heartbeat)
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity

However, a few other factors put women at higher risk for stroke:

  • Migraines with aura and smoking
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Pregnancy and preeclampsia (or high blood pressure)

The following can also cause a small but significant increase in a woman's risk of stroke:

  • Birth control pills
  • Hormone replacement therapies for menopause relief

Dr. Zacharias said women should talk to their health care provider about how to lower their risk if they have one of the above risk factors.

BCH is a Primary Stroke Center
BCH has been awarded Advanced Certification as a Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. This means BCH offers the latest in emergency treatments, diagnostic technologies and specially trained nurses and rehabilitation therapists for stroke care. To learn more about our primary stroke center, click here.

If you wish to schedule an appointment with Dr. Zacharias, call (303) 415-8800.

Click here to view PowerPoint slides from Dr. Zacharias's lecture on "Recognizing and Treating Stroke."

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