When it comes to strokes, women are less likely than men to get appropriate medical attention and medication, more likely to be disabled afterward, and more likely to die. This dire news comes from a group of studies published Tuesday in the American Heart Association's medical journal, called Stroke.
The studies show multiple gender differences. In fact, one study found that women had to wait longer than men to be seen by a doctor and undergo brain imaging. Overall quality of care for the most common type of stroke was lower for women than for men and women were less likely to receive cholesterol treatments and clot-busting drugs.
The reasons for the disparities are unclear. Another study found that among a group of highly educated women, just 5% of those with an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation, knew it was a risk factor for stroke. Other risk factors include high levels of bad cholesterol, low levels of good cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking. Doctors say high blood pressure is by far the biggest risk factor for stroke.
The good news is, though, that most of the risk factors can be lowered significantly through lifestyle changes and medication. Dr. Susan Bennett, of the American Heart Association, says, "If we're able to get all our risk factors lined up, all those risk factors controlled, then we can prevent heart disease and stroke by over 80%. So nobody gets immunity in this life from heart attacks and strokes, but if you can decrease something 80%, you're doing a great job for yourself".
Stroke symptoms may be subtle, but most people, including women, experience sudden numbness, weakness, confusion, trouble speaking or seeing, or a severe headache. Doctors say the most important thing to do if you suspect you or someone else is having a stroke is call 911 immediately. Patients are much more likely to be disabled or institutionalized if treatment is delayed.