Many Women Didn't Know the Signs of Stroke

Stroke symptoms like sudden vision loss and muffled speech were not known by a majority of women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Differences between the sexes can show in various ways, including through illness. The signs and symptoms of stroke are not necessarily the same in women as in men.

More than half of women surveyed in the United States were not aware of stroke’s warning signs, according to a new study.

Overall, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. For women, it is the third leading cause of death, and can leave a person with severe, long-term physical and mental disabilities.

"Learn the signs of stroke so that you can get treatment quickly."

Lori Mosca, MD, MPH, PhD, a Columbia University Medical Center professor and director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, and colleagues conducted this study to see how well women knew the warning signs of stroke.

Dr. Chaouki Khoury, a neurohospitalist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, who serves as director of neurology education and director of headache medicine for Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas and Our Children's House at Baylor, explained stroke and its warning signs to dailyRx News.

"Strokes are of two types: 1) Blockage of a blood supply to the brain, called ischemic stroke; 2) Rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, called hemorrhagic stroke," said Dr. Khoury. "The symptoms of these can vary."

According to Dr. Khoury, "Most people are aware of sudden onset weakness on one side as a possible presentation of stroke, but strokes can present in multiple different ways, and patients should get familiar with these other possible presentations."

Dr. Khoury continued, "Some of the more common presentations include: Sudden numbness on one side; sudden difficulty talking, which sometimes can be interpreted by the family as confusion; sudden incoordination on one side of the body or sudden difficulty walking due to balance problem; and sudden severe headache."

For their study, Dr. Mosca and two other researchers conducted a 10-minute telephone survey of 1,205 US women, aged 25 and older. More than half of those surveyed were white, 17 percent were black, 17 percent were Hispanic and 12 percent were some other race. All the women spoke English. They had been part of the American Heart Association’s Tracking Survey in 2012.

Based on the women’s answers to the telephone survey, these researchers concluded that 51 percent of these females were aware that sudden weakness or numbness in an arm or leg on one side of the body or on one side of the face were among the signs of stroke. During a stroke, a blood clot or broken blood vessel interrupts the blood flow to the brain, causing brain damage.

As a whole, the surveyed women knew even less about other warning signs. The survey found that:

  • 44 percent of these women knew that muffled speech or other difficulty talking was a sign of stroke.
  • 23 percent identified a sudden, severe headache as a sign of stroke.
  • 20 percent correctly named unexplained dizziness as a sign of stroke.
  • 18 percent knew that a sudden loss of vision also was sign of stroke.

“The data highlight a knowledge gap specifically related to stroke warning signs. Effective clinical counseling strategies and public awareness campaigns, such as the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Spot a Stroke FAST …  campaign, are needed to reach diverse populations of women,” the researchers wrote.

FAST is short for "Face drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulty; Time to call 9-1-1."

Despite their lack of stroke knowledge, most of these women knew it was essential to dial 911 for emergency medical help when they suspect a stroke. Eighty-four percent of the women said they knew to dial 911 in such cases.

"It's so important to recognize a stroke and get quick treatment," Dr. Mosca said.

In addition to the overall survey results, these researchers found that knowledge of stroke varied among racial groups. Hispanic women were the least likely to know the warning signs, these researchers wrote. One-fourth of Hispanic females in the survey did not know any of the warning signs.

By comparison, 19 percent of black women and 18 percent of white women did not know any warning signs.

Blacks and Hispanics have more strokes and more long-term, life-changing health effects from stroke than do whites, these researchers noted.

"Education about these [presentations of stroke] should be intensified in the community in general, with focus on minority women, since it seems from this study that they are less aware of stroke presentation than white women," Dr. Khoury told dailyRx News.

This research was presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2014 Scientific Sessions, held March 18-21 in San Francisco.

The study was commissioned by the American Heart Association and published online March 19 in the association’s journal, Stroke.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study.

The researchers reported that they had no ethical of financial conflicts of interest related to this study.

Review Date: 
March 19, 2014
Last Updated:
March 20, 2014