Study Says Women's Minor Strokes Are More Likely to Go Undetected


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five women in the U.S. will experience a stroke at some point in her life, and nearly 60 percent of those who die from stroke are women. In spite of this, like heart attacks, strokes are thought of as a disease that primarily affects men—and that poses some serious issues for women. A new study in JAMA Neurology has revealed that women who experience a minor stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA), are less likely than men to be properly diagnosed, despite having similar symptoms.

The study included nearly 1,650 patients who had symptoms of a minor stroke, which is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain, and is often a warning that a major stroke lies ahead. The patients in the study were referred to a neurologist after receiving emergency care between 2013 and 2017. Both male and female participants reported similar common symptoms of a minor stroke, such as tingling, dizziness, and confusion.

But, according to Dr. Amy Yu, M.D., a stroke neurologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and lead author of the study, "men were more likely to be diagnosed with TIA or minor stroke, and women were 10 percent more likely to be given a non-stroke diagnosis, for example migraine or vertigo."

Dr. Shelagh Coutts, MD, a stroke neurologist with Alberta Health Services at Foothills Medical Centre and co-author of the study, added another interesting detail. The study found that "the chance of having another stroke or heart attack within 90 days of the diagnosis was the same for women and men." That means women were in a more precarious position. "Our findings call attention to potential missed opportunities for prevention of stroke and other adverse vascular events such as heart attack or death in women," Coutts explained.

Alarmingly, women are also dangerously slow at recognizing heart attack symptoms. Studies recently presented at a European Society of Cardiology (ESC) congress found that women tend to call an ambulance for their husbands, fathers, and brothers with heart attack symptoms, but not for themselves.

It's becoming more and more evident that both doctors and women themselves have a tendency to minimize their own symptoms of pain. According to a 2016 University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center article, "women try to assign other reasons for not feeling well. For example, a woman is likely to say her blood pressure is high because she's upset about something or recently started a new medication, or to say she's in pain or feels weak because she didn't sleep well, and so forth."

The UT Southwestern experts go on to say that the fact that women are also the primary caretakers in their families creates issues. "Women also tend not to seek care for stroke symptoms because they don't want their friends or family to worry," the article continues. "Or sometimes, they don't want to deal with a serious medical diagnosis because too many people depend on them."

To prevent stroke, it's imperative that both medical professionals and women themselves start to take their symptoms more seriously. Common symptoms of stroke include facial drooping, numbness on one side of the body, confusion, slurred speech, difficulty seeing, difficulty walking, and a severe headache. But women can also experience symptoms that men typically don't, such as fainting, shortness of breath, sudden behavioral changes, hallucination, nausea or vomiting, pain, or seizures.

If something doesn't feel right, call your doctor and schedule an appointment today. And to make sure you don't forget to mention something important, check out 10 Things Doctors Say Patients Should Tell Them, But They Never Do.

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