Symptoms checked: Hidden risk of stroke – women are often at risk without knowing it
Deafness, paralysis – many are familiar with such alarm signals for a stroke. But in women, supposedly harmless signs should also point to it. A doctor does the online check for FOCUS and explains which ones you should definitely take seriously. Because when in doubt, every minute counts.
Suddenly everything is different. A stroke often tears people out of life. As was the case with comedy star Gaby Köster in 2008. She no longer felt the left side of her body: “It’s like snapping your fingers and suddenly one side fell out. I didn’t understand it at first. I thought my arm and leg were lying to me,” Köster said years ago in an interview with SternTV. Like her, many women find it difficult to recognize the symptoms of a stroke correctly.
Exciting, but no time right now?
It is typical that the circulatory disturbance in the brain causes failure symptoms like these. Physician Christian Nolte also speaks of “minus symptoms”. That is, “a function that worked previously no longer works”. Nolte is one of the heads of the Stroke Unit at the Clinic for Neurology at the Charité Campus Benjamin Franklin and a researcher at the Center for Stroke Research Berlin (CSB).
That’s what happens when you have a stroke
The term “stroke” refers to a circulatory disorder in the brain. The circulatory disorder can be caused either by a blockage of a blood vessel (so-called ischemia) or by a vessel in the brain tissue bursting (so-called cerebral hemorrhage). Cerebral hemorrhages are generally less common than ischaemia.
Women are more likely to suffer a stroke than men
In Germany, a stroke affects 250,000 to 300,000 people every year. The number varies, depending on whether only blockages or also ruptured cerebral vessels and whether only first-time events or also renewed events (“recurrences”) are counted.
In Germany, slightly more women suffer a stroke per year than men. “But that’s because women live much longer than men,” explains Christian Nolte. “In comparison, women have more years of life in which they are at risk of suffering a stroke.”
If you ignore the fact that women live longer – for example, if you only compare people under the age of 80, then more men suffer a stroke.
According to the Robert Koch Institute, the lifetime prevalence of stroke – i.e. the probability of having a stroke in one’s lifetime – is 2.5 percent for women and 3.3 percent for men in the 40 to 79 age group in Germany. After the age of 80, the number of women affected by a stroke increases significantly.
The difference between men and women is much clearer in the cerebral hemorrhage subgroup, where men are almost twice as likely to be affected as women.
Women-specific risk factors for stroke
The typical stroke patient is around 75 years old and single. Besides age, there are general risk factors that affect women. Before their stroke, they suffer from atrial fibrillation and heart failure more often than men – often without even knowing it. At the same time, they are less likely to have (known) coronary artery disease (CHD) than men.
Another risk factor specific to women is hormones. If women (female) Hormone take in, increases the likelihood of having a stroke. Therefore, according to the expert, risks and benefits should be critically weighed up when taking hormones (pill, hormone replacement therapy), especially in old age. This is especially true if the person also smokes and also if they have a migraine, as these factors can significantly increase the risk of a stroke.
Women should watch out for these symptoms
Just like men, women should pay attention to the following symptoms:
- one-sided numbness of the skin/body (face+arm+leg)
- hemiplegia (muscle weakness)
- a speech disorder (words are not brought out, words are not understood)
- Images are seen twice and disappear when one eye is closed
- the field of vision is restricted on one side in both eyes
A stroke always manifests itself in the form of “minus symptoms”, which means that a bodily function is no longer in order.
Checking women’s stroke symptoms
Symptoms typical of women are often also mentioned, which should accompany a stroke:
- worst headache
- rotary vertigo
But what is actually about these? “In connection with a stroke, I am not aware that these symptoms occur differently according to gender,” says Christian Nolte. Gastrointestinal complaints in particular are initially independent of the stroke.
In addition, stroke patients are often attributed the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain and heart palpitations
- facial pain
- limb and joint pain
This is what the expert says: “Acute stroke usually causes ‘minus symptoms’, i.e. numbness, weakness, a restricted field of vision and no ‘plus symptoms’, i.e. no pain – apart from a headache.”
In concrete terms, this means for the symptoms that are often described: shortness of breath and any form of pain are not typical symptoms of a stroke (exception: headaches). Shortness of breath suggests a cardio-pulmonary (heart-lung) cause. Above all, the doctor sees things critically Statements such as “Women who have had an acute stroke are more likely to have shortness of breath”. These are not effective, since the shortness of breath in 99 percent of cases is not likely to be caused by a stroke. “Even hiccups will not be a symptom of a stroke in more than 99 percent of cases. This is a rare rarity.”
His recommendation: “In patients with shortness of breath (or hiccups), doctors should first think of the common causes of shortness of breath and only think of a stroke as a second step or if there are other symptoms that indicate a stroke.”
A stroke in women differs from that in men
Women are older when they experience their first stroke (5 years older on average). At this point, they are more likely to be living without a life partner and more often have had to accept limitations in coping with everyday activities even before the stroke.
As a result, this means:
- The brain damage that women suffer is then more likely to be severe (women have more “severe” damage).
- Women are more likely to have the cardiac arrhythmia “atrial fibrillation”, which is an important risk factor for the occurrence of a stroke.
- Women are more likely to die as a result of stroke than men.
- Depression is more common in women after a stroke.
This is why women recover less well than men after a stroke
Actual differences show up in the time after the attack. The prognosis after a stroke is worse for women than for men. “However, this is probably not due to gender as such,” explains Nolte, “but mainly because women are older when they suffer a stroke, have less social support, and were already restricted before the stroke, which means they were worse off have a starting position.”
These are the most important measures to prevent a stroke
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman or a man – everyone can do something to reduce their risk of stroke. Namely:
- Do not smoke
- Knowing if high blood pressure is present and treating it if present (target BP <135/85mmHg)
- Knowing if you have atrial fibrillation and treating it if you have it (atrial fibrillation is detected on an EKG)
- Knowing if you have high blood fat levels (elevated cholesterol)
- Knowing whether you have diabetes mellitus (a type of diabetes) and treating it if you have it
- Regular exercise (break a sweat at least twice a week, 20 minutes is enough)
- reduce meat consumption