The World Health Organization states that stroke is the second leading cause of death and the third leading cause of disability globally.
In India, approximately 17 Lakh new cases occur annually. Out of this, a significant number of cases are of stroke in women. Lifestyle factors and medical risks are some of the reasons behind the increased incidence of stroke in women.
Before we dive into the early signs of stroke and the reasons behind them, let’s first understand what brain stroke is. To put it simply, brain stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is blocked or a blood vessel in the brain bursts. When brain cells are deprived of oxygen and nutrients, it results in stroke.
Risk Factors For Women
There are two categories of risk factors associated with stroke in women. One, lifestyle risk factors such as being overweight or obese, lack of physical activity, smoking, and a high-cholesterol diet. Two, medical risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Apart from these risk factors, there are a few stroke risk factors that are unique to women.
As per American Stroke Association, the risk of stroke in pregnant women is 21 per 100,000. The third trimester of pregnancy and a few months post-delivery are associated with high risks for stroke. If there are other conditions such as high blood pressure, the patient must be monitored very closely to avoid any complications.
It is a hypertensive disorder that occurs during pregnancy. This disorder not only doubles the risk of stroke but also increases the chances of developing high blood pressure later in life.
Oral contraceptive pills (OCPs)
Though OCPs have become safer now, it’s important to note that patients with additional risk factors like smoking and migraine must take additional precautions.
Migraine with sensory disturbances: Such migraines that can impact one’s vision, hearing, or one’s ability to speak can be yet another risk factor for stroke. Women with migraine with sensory disturbances must avoid smoking and usage of oral contraceptives to reduce the risk.
Early Signs Of Stroke In Women
Some of the early warning signs include:
• Face drooping
• Weakness in the arms and legs
• Difficulty in speaking clearly
• Severe headache without a known cause
• Brief loss of consciousness
• Lack of coordination and balance.
In addition to these, some women may have
• Blurred vision
• Numbness in the body
• Memory loss and disorientation
• Constant fatigue and general weakness
Recognizing these early signs and getting help is crucial in order to avoid further complications. Though these symptoms can appear gradually or suddenly, the underlying causes that result in stroke are typically present for years before it strikes a patient.
What Can Help Prevent A Stroke?
If you have a family history of stroke or if you have high-risk factors, below are a few lifestyle changes to prevent stroke.
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure, all of which are risk factors for stroke. Get moving. You are not required to run a marathon. It is sufficient to exercise for 30 minutes five days a week. Consult your doctor before you start exercising.
Watch What you Eat
Healthy eating will help you lose weight and reduce the risk of having a stroke. Fresh fruits, vegetables like broccoli, sprouts, and leafy greens like spinach must be a part of your everyday diet. Choose foods that are rich in fiber and lean proteins. Trans and saturated fats can clog your arteries, so avoid them. Reduce your salt intake and stay away from processed foods.
Smokers are also more likely to develop high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for stroke. Quitting smoking will not only reduce your risk of stroke and but also your risk of other health problems.
How Do You Know When A Person Is Having A Stroke?
If you are in a situation where someone in your immediate surroundings is having a stroke, here’s what you can do. Act FAST and do the following test.
F stands for FACE
Ask the person to smile. Check if one side of the face is drooping.
A stands for ARMS
Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S stands for SPEECH
Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
T stands for TIME
If you see any of these signs, get them to a hospital right away.