Each year more than 100 000 women under the age of 65 will have a stroke. But if you were one of those women, would you be able to recognise the symptoms?
“In the stroke field, they say ‘time is brain’,” says Dr Andrew Stemer, director of the stroke program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
Meaning the longer you wait to seek treatment after experiencing stroke symptoms, the more time there is for permanent damage to occur. Your best defense is to catch the symptoms early and get to an ER stat.
“If there’s any sudden onset of a new neurological symptom that affects one side of the body, then I would go to the emergency room right away,” says Dr Stemer. “It may be a migraine or something else that’s benign, but the problem is, if you don’t go in, then you’ll have missed your opportunity to really treat the stroke.”
Here, seven stroke symptoms in women that deserve immediate medical attention:
1. You feel weak or numb on one side of your body
Suddenly losing strength or being unable to feel a limb on one side of your body is one of the most common signs of stroke, especially in the arm and leg, Dr Stemer says. Why just on one side of the body? Because, as the American Stroke Association explains, each side of your brain affects the opposite side of your body. So, if you have bleeding in the right side of your brain, the left side of your body will show symptoms.
2. One side of your face is drooping
Again, the side of the brain affected will determine which side of your face shows this tell-tale stroke symptom, he says. If the corner of your mouth of eye are suddenly drooping or you’re unable to control facial expressions on both sides of your face, get to the emergency room immediately.
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3. You are having difficulty reading or understanding speech
The left side of your brain is in control of language, so if you experience a stroke there, you could experience aphasia (loss of ability to understand or express speech). This is the most common language stroke symptom, impairing your brain’s ability to processes words. It can affect how you speak, your ability to understand what someone is saying, or your reading or writing skills.
While we all have moments where we can’t think of a word, “most people know themselves or their own body well enough to recognise this is transient or applies only to a certain word,” says Dr Stemer. “I would say if someone is alarmed with being unable to speak – having words stuck on the tip of their tongue for example – or not understanding what others are saying, it is time to seek care immediately.”
4. Your speech is slurred
Another, but less common speech-related stroke symptom, dyspraxia happens when you cannot control the muscles required to produce clear speech, he says. Your speech muscles may or may not be weak or paralysed, and you won’t be able to move them how you want, when you want.
5. You have a hellacious headache
Severe headaches are most likely to occur in cases of haemorrhagic strokes, in which the brain bleeds into itself, which require immediate medical attention, he says. However, we aren’t talking your run-of-the-mill headache here. If you could describe yours as “the worst headache of your life” or it comes on in a blink of an eye, definitely get it checked out.
Read more: “I survived a stroke – and it scared me enough to change my lifestyle”
6. You can’t see to one side
Much like the limb weakness or numbness, vision problems are usually one-sided. But instead of losing sight in one full eye, you’re more likely to lose the same field of vision in both eyes (for example, neither eye can see to the left.) This is because “the eyeball itself and the optic nerve are fine, but where that information goes to get processed in the brain is what can be damaged,” says Dr Stemer.
7. You’re having trouble walking
Strokes can cause both dizziness and a loss of coordination, he says. Meanwhile, if you’re also dealing with numbness or weakness in one leg, you’re only going to have more trouble walking or simply staying upright. This can be an alarming neurological symptom and deserves an immediate trip to the hospital.