Many consider stroke a "men's disease," but the truth is twice as many women die of stroke annually than of breast cancer. Stroke is the leading cause of disability in women.
But it doesn't have to be that way. According to the National Stroke Association, up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable. It's crucial to be able to recognize the signs of stroke so a stroke victim gets care as soon as possible. After three hours have passed since the first signs of a stroke, doctors are limited in how or if they can treat.
1. What is a stroke?
Casually referred to as a "brain attack," a stroke happens when a clogged artery stops the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. It can also happen when a blood vessel bursts in the brain.
Without blood and oxygen, brain cells begin to die. Strokes can cause significant damage, including impairing your abilities to walk, talk, think, remember or breathe.
2. Am I at risk for stroke?
Several factors can put you at an increased risk for stroke, including high blood pressure (above 140/90 puts you at high risk), diabetes, high cholesterol (above 240) and a family history of the disease. Making unhealthy lifestyle choices - smoking, physical inactivity, a poor diet - can also raise your chances for having a stroke.
And a few factors are specific to women - those who are on certain birth control pills or postmenopausal hormonal replacement therapy are at an even higher risk than the average person.
3. What are the signs of stroke?
For women, stroke symptoms often include face and limb pain, hiccups, nausea, general weakness, chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations, according to the National Stroke Association.
In general, these are signs someone might have had a stroke:Sudden feelings of numbness or weakness in the face, arms or legs - especially if it's just on one side of the body Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination Sudden severe headache with no known cause
4. How can you treat strokes?
Doctors use t-PA, a drug that dissolves blood clots to get blood flowing to the brain again. Patients who receive t-PA are 55 percent more likely to leave the hospital with little or no disability after three months, according to the National Stroke Association. The drug must be given within three hours of the first signs of stroke symptoms, though, and patients typically arrive to the hospital 12 to 24 hours after the first stroke symptom, the group says.
Another treatment device is the Merci Retriever, a corkscrew-type tool that is threaded through the arteries to pull clots out of the brain.
Two local hospitals - Mount Carmel Medical Center and Riverside Methodist Hospital - are members of the National Stroke Association Stroke Center Network, which means they exhibit a commitment to providing quality stroke care at their facilities.
5. What can I do to help?
These nonprofit groups support stroke research:
American Heart Association
The American Heart Association started the stroke division after many years of increasing emphasis on stroke. The group focuses on reducing risk, disability and death from stroke through research, education, fundraising and advocacy. Call the American Heart Association Columbus Metro Chapter at 614-848-6676 for more information.
Hazel K. Goddess Fund for Stroke Research in Women
Lynn B. Goddess founded this fund to honor her mother, who died of complications from stroke. The nonprofit group addresses issues specific to stroke in women, including research, prevention, treatment, education and advocacy.
National Stroke Association
The only national organization that focuses 100 percent of its efforts on stroke, this group works to lower the incidence and impact of stroke through community outreach programs, advocating quality patient care and educating the public about stroke.
The Northeast Ohio Stroke Association, based in Ravenna, is the only local chapter in Ohio. Call 330-297-2414 for more information.