Gender Puts Women More at Risk for Stroke

Priyanka Noorani, who goes by Pia, was pregnant with her first child just months ago. As her beautiful baby girl entered the world, Pia and her husband couldn’t have been happier. Just 15 days after the birth of her daughter however, Pia began to experience relentless dizziness. After two days of constant dizziness, Pia’s vision started to fail.

Her husband rushed her to the hospital. Once admitted, doctors came back unveiling that Noorani had a stroke.

In the battle of the sexes, here’s one that women like Noorani – often unknowingly – take the lead in: About 55,000 more women than men have strokes every year. Strokes kill more women than men annually, making it the #3 leading cause of death in women. In Texas, 48,103 women have suffered from strokes in the past eight years according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 2017 Annual Report.

“Having a stroke never crossed my mind,” Noorani says. “I’m only 25. I thought that my husband would have a serious health condition before I did.”

This gender misconception about strokes is common, according to Dr. Maria Lomba, Medical Director for New Braunfels Regional Rehabilitation Hospital. “Most people don’t realize that women suffer strokes more frequently than men,” she says. “If you’re a woman, you share a lot of the same risk factors for strokes as men, but a woman’s risk is also influenced by hormones, reproductive health, pregnancy, childbirth and other gender-related factors.”

For example, birth control pills may double the risk of stroke, especially in women with high blood pressure or who smoke. And, according to the American Heart Association, hormone replacement therapy – once thought to reduce stroke risk – in fact, actually increases it.

A recent study, shared through the National Stroke Association, found that the following factors are linked to increase stroke risk in women:

  • Menstruation before the age of 10
  • Menopause before the age of 45
  • Low levels of the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS)
  • Taking oral estrogen or combined oral contraceptives

The study also showed that a history of pregnancy complications can also indicate higher stroke risk. These problems include gestational diabetes and high blood pressure during or immediately after pregnancy.

“Add this to other general risk factors for stroke like family history, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, lack of exercise, and being overweight – and it becomes clearer as to why women can be more at risk for stroke than men,” Lomba says.

For the sake of her new baby girl, Noorani didn’t take any chances with her health. She went straight to the hospital when she became aware of her stroke-like symptoms. Being aware of her symptoms helped her get the care she needed quickly, which ultimately aided in her recovery. After fifty days of initial medical treatment, and another month of inpatient rehabilitation, Noorani was transferred to New Braunfels Regional Rehabilitation Hospital for outpatient rehabilitation, which included speech, physical, and occupational therapy.

Noorani is still recovering, but she has shown great progress over the months. “You just have to keep fighting,” she says. “You have to hold onto whatever it is you love and fight for it. For me, I am fighting for my daughter.”

Due to the extent of Noorani’s condition, she couldn’t walk, talk, or take care of her baby when she was first admitted. But, after months of continual therapy and the support of her family, she now is able to do all of those things. “Getting to hold my daughter again is my biggest accomplishment,” Noorani says.

“Whatever stage of life a woman is in, it’s important that she be aware of all the risk factors of stroke,” Lomba says. “As it’s often said, ‘knowledge is power.’ And in this case, the more knowledgeable a woman is about her stroke risk factors, the more she’ll be able to understand how she can be affected and work with her physician or healthcare provider as appropriate to reduce them.”