What Causes Strokes In Women? – Types, Risk Factors & Recovery Rates

Although strokes happen in both men and women, more women than men die of stroke. Also, women have a higher risk of getting strokes; about 1 in 5 women will have a stroke. In addition to this, as women usually live much longer than men do, more women than men have strokes.

There are also theories to support that women generally have strokes when they are much older than compared to men; therefore, they are more likely to bear long-term problems and disabilities as a result of stroke. Here, we have focussed on what causes strokes in women, types and risk factors associated with strokes, and rates and extent of recovery from strokes.

1. What is a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when your brain cells are deprived of oxygen and nutrients due to interruption in the blood supply to your brain. This interruption may occur due to the fact that a blood vessel in the brain has burst (this is called a haemorrhagic stroke) or because of blockage of blood vessels typically by a blood clot (this is called ischaemic stroke). About 87% of all strokes are ischaemic strokes.

2. What are the Types of Stroke?

Strokes can be broadly classified into two categories. They are ischaemic strokes and haemorrhagic strokes.

2.1. Ischaemic Strokes

These strokes occur when a blot clot forms or moves into the blood vessel. The clot blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Nearly 80% of strokes fall into the category of ischaemic strokes.

2.2. Haemorrhagic Strokes

Haemorrhagic strokes occur due to the ruptures or bursts of blood vessels that are located in or near the brain.

2.3. TIA or Transient Ischaemic Attack

Also referred to as a ‘mini stroke’, transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is the result of a temporary disruption of blood flow to a part of the brain. Though symptoms of transient ischaemic attack usually resolve within 24 hours, it is mandatory to get medical attention for this.

3. What are the Symptoms of Stroke?

Here is a list of some common signs and symptoms you may notice when a person has a stroke.

3.1. Trouble Speaking as well as Understanding what others are saying

A person who is having a stroke is often confused, has trouble speaking or slurry speech, and may not be able to understand what others speak.

3.2. Numbness, Weakness or Paralysis in the Face, Arm or Leg

This affects one side of the person’s body in most cases. A good test would be to raise both arms over the head. If one arm begins to fall, it is indicative of a stroke. Another such sign is the drooping of one side of one’s face while smiling.

3.3. Problems Seeing in One or Both Eyes

While having a stroke, a person may suddenly have blurred or blackened vision in one or both eyes. He/she may also have a double vision.

3.4. Headache

People having a stroke often get a sudden, severe headache. The headache is likely to be accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, dizziness and a change in consciousness.

3.5. Trouble Walking

The person having a stroke may stumble or lose balance and have trouble walking or even standing up. This is one of the most common signs of stroke.

4. What Causes Strokes in Women?

Several factors raise the risk of stroke in women and this increased risk is associated with migraines, obesity, pregnancy, smoking, some types of oral contraceptive pill and hypertension or high blood pressure. These have been discussed in detail below:

4.1. Migraines

Three times as many females compared to men suffer from migraine headaches. The association of strokes with migraines is not fully understood, but occasionally, migraine and strokes may happen together. Among the strongest theories of migraine–stroke association are cortical spreading depression, endovascular dysfunction, vasoconstriction, neurogenic inflammation, hypercoagulability, increased prevalence of vascular risk factors, shared genetic defects, cervical artery dissection, and patent foramen ovale.

4.2. Obesity

Being overweight increases one’s risk of stroke by about 22% and if you are obese, the risk increases up to 64%. Having excess fat in the body increases a person’s risk of heart disease, hypertension or high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, which in turn are factors that increase the risk of stroke.

4.3. Pregnancy

Pregnancy makes a woman’s blood more likely to clot, which in turn increases the risk of stroke. Swelling from pregnancy may reduce blood flow to the legs due to the increased risk of clotting, and when your blood does not circulate well, it is more likely to clot, which may lead to a stroke. A stroke occurs approximately 30 times in every 1,00,000 pregnancies, which is about 3 times higher compared to the risk in other adults of the same age group.

4.4. Smoking

Smoking cigarettes doubles your risk of stroke. This is because smoking increases one’s blood pressure and reduces the flow of oxygen to the brain. In the United States, round 152000 strokes out of 8000 strokes that annually occur annually nationwide can be associated to smoking. It takes about 2-4 years after you quit smoking for the excess risk of stroke to decrease. Quitting smoking will also significantly lower your chances of getting a heart attack, cancer and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Smoking increases your risk of stroke by damaging one’s blood vessels, triggering plaque or clot formation, and weakening your blood vessels.

4.5. Oral Contraceptive Pills

Research in the year 2019 concluded that oral contraceptive use observed an approximately 20% increase in the risk of ischemic stroke and total stroke for every 10 micrograms of hormone oestrogen or a 5-year increment of use. It has also been reported that women who use oral contraceptives have a 2 to 5 fold increased risk of stroke compared to non-users. In addition to these data, neuroimaging studies have shown that the use of OC results in structural changes in the brain.

4.6. High Blood Pressure or Hypertension

Hypertension or high blood pressure may cause the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain to burst or be blocked, thus causing a stroke. Women are more likely to have high blood pressure than men are after they reach the age of 60.

5. Complications that you may have After a Stroke

One is likely to experience some sort of neurological and physical complications following a stroke. The nature of complications may be minor or major, as well as temporary or permanent, depending upon the size of the stroke and the part of the brain affected by it.

5.1. Formation of Dangerous Blood Clots

If you are unable to move around for a long time, you may have an increased risk of developing blood clots in the deep veins of your leg. Sometimes, the blood clots may break loose and travel to your lungs. Your medical health professional may try to prevent these complications with medicine or by using a device that puts pressure on your calves to keep your blood flowing properly.

5.2. Loss of Bladder or Bowel Control

Urinary incontinence occurs in about 40% to 60% of people admitted to a hospital after suffering a stroke. Therefore, about half of the people admitted to a hospital with a stroke will have loss of bladder control and a third of them will experience bowel control. This happens because some strokes affect the muscles we need to urinate and have bowel movements. To help with this, you may use a urinary catheter, which is a tube placed into the bladder until you can urinate on your own. There is a chance that you may also lose control of your bowels or be constipated.

5.3. Loss of Bone Density or Strength

Osteoporosis is a common complication people face after stroke and this condition has been associated with an increased incidence of fractures, mainly of the hip, leading to further disability. To help prevent this loss, you must make physical activity part of your rehabilitation process.

5.4. Muscle Weakness or Inability to Move

Muscle weakness after stroke can cause difficulties with sitting, standing, walking, moving your arms or holding things. Weakness that one experiences on one side of the body after stroke is often referred to as hemiparesis and paralysis on one side of the body due to stroke is called hemiplegia.

5.5. Problems with Language, Thinking or Memory

Loss of speech after a stroke is known as aphasia. About 21% to 40% people that recover from a stroke experience some level of permanent difficulty in speech. Strokes can also affect your thinking ability or cognition. Approximately one-third of the people who have a stroke will develop memory problems. Both large strokes and multiple small strokes can lead to vascular dementia in patients.

5.6. Seizures

There was a study that found that among people who had strokes, approximately 5% had one seizure and 7% developed epilepsy in the 30 months afterwards. Post-stroke seizure as well as post-stroke epilepsy, either as a presenting feature or as a complication following a stroke.

5.7. Swelling in the Brain

Cerebral edema, which is also referred to as brain swelling, is a serious complication that can occur after a stroke. This condition is your body’s natural response to the brain cells being damaged or killed by a lack of oxygen and blood supply, which is exactly what a stroke does. The mortality rate due to cerebral oedema is as high as 80%.

5.8. Loss of Vision, Hearing or Touch

After a stroke, the patient may experience a sudden loss, partial or total, of one or more senses – visual, hearing, smell, taste and even touch. Some people with loss in their visual field may not even be aware of the missing area of vision. This condition is called Hemianopia and it makes reading really difficult for patients.

5.9. Problems Swallowing and Pneumonia

Difficulty in swallowing is common after a stroke; almost half of stroke patients face swallowing problems initially but this recovers very quickly. Another serious and common complication people experience after stroke is pneumonia.

6. How to Know If Someone Is Having a Stroke?

There is a technique called FAST in short that one can use to identify that a person is having a stroke.

F – Face Drooping: Ask the person to smile. If the smile is uneven, that is, one side of the face is drooping, it is indicative of a stroke.

A-Arm Weakness: Ask the person to raise his or her arms. If one arm tends to drift downwards, it indicates that the person is having or has had a stroke.

S – Slurry Speech: See if the person is having difficulty speaking or is hard to understand. Slurry speech is one of the common symptoms of stroke. To check speech, ask the person to repeat a simple sentence such as ‘The sky is blue’.

T—Time: Check the time and note when the symptoms first appeared. It is also time to call for immediate help. Dial 9-1-1 to call for emergency services.

7. Rates & Extent of Recovery After Stroke

Here are some statistics related to the rate and extent of recovery after a stroke:

  • Around 10% of patients recover almost completely.
  • Around 25% of patients recover with only minor impairments.
  • Around 40% of patients experience moderate to severe impairments that need special care.
  • Around 10% of patients require long-term care.
  • Around 15% of patients die shortly after.

8. Conclusion

Stroke is one of the leading drivers of neurological disability and placement in long-term care. A third of stroke survivors are functionally dependent on others one year after the stroke onset. Women tend to have strokes when they are older, and thus, the impact of it is more devastating, and they have more stability.

Stroke is the biggest killer of Australian women and kills more women than breast cancer. Brain cells die during a stroke due to lack of oxygen, and one may suffer long-term disability due to a stroke. A stroke can also kill you, and thus, it is important that you immediately call for help if you see a person having a stroke.

Last Updated on April 30, 2024 by Gautam