Gender Puts Women More at Risk for Stroke

“It happened at seven o’clock in the morning. All of a sudden, the right side of my head went numb. It was so sore. I knew something was wrong,” explains Alyce Mosser, an 87-year-old retiree of Slaton, Texas. Mosser immediately notified her caregiver about what was happening, who then took her to the local hospital.

Once admitted, Mosser was told that she had a stroke.

In the battle of the sexes, here’s one that women like Mosser – 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 Service, 2017 Annual Report.

Many don’t realize women are at a higher risk for strokes than men. This gender misconception about strokes is common, according to Dr. Roger Wolcott, Medical Director of Trustpoint Rehabilitation Hospital of Lubbock. “Most people don’t realize that women suffer strokes more frequently than men,” he 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 listed the following factors to have been found 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,” Wolcott says.

For Mosser, being aware of her symptoms helped her get the care she needed quickly, which ultimately aided in her recovery. After being treated at a local hospital for initial stroke care, Mosser was transferred to Trustpoint Rehabilitation Hospital of Lubbock where she spent two weeks receiving rehabilitation to help her recover, which included daily physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

“You learn to celebrate the little victories, because they’re actually a huge deal,” Mosser says. “I remember when I was first able to walk back from the gym to my room.  My physical therapist was so helpful and encouraging, which made all the difference. It’s the little things.”

After walking out of the hospital two weeks after being admitted, Mosser has regained much of her mobility and is able to walk with the help of a cane.

“I’m so thankful for the care I received and the doctors I had,” Mosser says. “I was very lucky to have them.”

“Whatever stage of life a woman is in, it’s important that she be aware of all the risk factors of stroke,” Wolcott 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.”