Signs of stroke in a woman may be different than in a man

Stroke symptoms in women sometimes can be different from symptoms in men. 

Twice as many women will die from stroke than breast cancer. Not only are women more likely to have a stroke compared with men, they also are less likely to recognize the symptoms. Understanding what’s happening is critical to getting lifesaving treatment as quickly as possible.

Stroke symptoms in women

Stroke symptoms in women sometimes can be different from symptoms in men. Typical stroke symptoms in men and women are sudden:

  • Loss of speech
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Worst headache of your life

Stroke also can have some unusual symptoms that come on suddenly. Women especially may experience:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Changes in behavior

Stroke risk factors for women

Estrogen-based hormone replacement or oral contraceptives (birth control) can increase the risk for stroke. Women over age 30 who smoke and take high-estrogen oral birth control have a stroke risk 22 times higher than average. Women who take birth control should avoid all tobacco products and secondhand smoke. Pregnancy also can increase a woman’s stroke risk due to a higher risk for blood clots.

In addition, women are more likely to have autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, which carries a higher risk of coronary artery disease, and, therefore, stroke.

Race can play a role in stroke

African-American women are twice as likely to die from stroke compared with white women. Hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, obesity, smoking and sickle cell anemia are among the stroke risk factors of particular concern to African-American women.

Better to overreact to stroke symptoms

A stroke is a brain attack and can happen at any time. If you or a family member experiences the signs of stroke, call 911 immediately. The faster you seek medical treatment, the better your chance for survival.

Lacy Keith Shumway is a stroke outreach coordinator at Norton Neuroscience Institute.

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