Women and Stroke: What You Need To Know

October 5, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. It's our nation's third leading cause of death, but knowing your risk and what the symptoms are could save your life.At age 38, Nicole Reeder had a massive stroke. "I think the most profound loss I have is adding and subtracting," she told Ivanhoe. "I was valedictorian of my class, math and physics." Doctors said she'd never walk again, but Reeder stayed strong. "Nobody is going to tell me I'm not going to walk again. They are telling the wrong person," she said.

Some risk factors for stroke are unique to women, like pregnancy, says George Levy, M.D., a neurologist at Broward Health Coral Springs Medical Center in Coral Springs, Fla. "That is because there's a higher plasma volume, blood volume in pregnancy," Dr. Levy told Ivanhoe. "There's also a higher risk for thrombosis."

Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy also raise a woman's risk and migraines can increase the risk because of their effect on the brain. "The blood vessels constrict to sometimes a point where the tissue can't get enough blood supply and of course, that's the definition of a stroke," Dr. Levy said. Post-menopausal women with high triglycerides and a waist larger than 35 inches have a five-fold increased stroke risk.

"The focus definitely ought to be on prevention and early treatment," Dr. Levy said. Stroke symptoms unique to women include sudden face and limb pain, hiccups, nausea, chest pain and shortness of breath.

Doctors think birth control pills, especially after thirty-five, played a role in Reeder's stroke. "Life is going to hand you lemons, but what are they going to be? Nobody ever knows," Reeder said. Today, Reeder struggles with her left hand, simple math and memory, but she is walking thanks to sheer determination.

Migraines can increase a man's risk of stroke too, but migraines disproportionately affect women. About 18 percent of women suffer from migraines, compared to just six percent of men.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Broward Health
Coral Springs, FL
(954) 759-7400
www.browardhealth.org


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