Women and stroke

Posted on 2 September 2020

Brain damage from a stroke can be limited if you get focused medical attention as soon as possible from a multidisciplinary Mediclinic team.

A stroke occurs when a blood clot or ruptured artery stops the flow of blood to an area of your brain, says Dr Bianca Vermeulen, a GP at Mediclinic Midstream. ‘Without the flow of oxygen or glucose that blood brings, brain cells can die, causing long-term problems with functions such as talking, walking, moving, understanding and making decisions,’ she explains.

Women are more at risk of stroke than men for a number of reasons.

Oral contraception: If you’re already at risk of stroke, you should take extra precautions when it comes to birth control pills, even though they’re much safer than they were a few years ago. ‘High blood pressure and smoking can heighten your risk of stroke if you’re taking oral contraceptives,’ says Dr Vermeulen. ‘Your doctor will be able to discuss alternate contraception options with you.’

Pregnancy: According to 2017 research by Canadian stroke neurologist Dr Richard Swartz, stroke in women during pregnancy is three times higher than in non-pregnant women of the same age. This translates to about 30 out of every 100 000 women experiencing stroke during pregnancy. It can happen at any stage, but the risk is highest just before or following birth. ‘Pregnant women are at an increased risk of stroke, but it is important to stress that the risk is still very low,’ says Dr Vermeulen. ‘Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia – problems in pregnancy involving high blood pressure and other symptoms – are the strongest risk factors, accounting for up to half of all strokes that occur in pregnancy.’

Women are also likely to experience vague, atypical symptoms when they suffer a stroke.  ‘You might feel exhausted, confused or generally weak, as opposed to experiencing sudden weakness on one side of the body,’ says Dr Vermeulen. You also might dismiss exhaustion, hiccups, brain fog and headaches as signs of stress, or think that your nausea or vomiting is just a viral illnesses.

‘It’s far better to be safe than sorry,’ Dr Vermeulen cautions. ‘Post-stroke damage can be limited if treated immediately by a multidisciplinary Mediclinic team, particularly if the stroke is caused by a blood clot [ischaemic stroke].’


FAQs: Stroke most common questions answered


During the first few hours from onset of symptoms, ongoing damage to the brain occurs. As time passes, the damaged area increases in size. ‘If the patient is able to get to a hospital, there is a window period of four-and-a-half hours during which a clot-busting agent can be administered to disperse the clot, enabling blood supply to return to the brain,’ says Dr Marcelle Smith, a neurologist at Mediclinic Sandton. ‘This treatment is called thrombolysis.’ However, not all patients are eligible for this treatment, and imaging of the brain, most commonly a CT scan, will need to be performed first.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, every day nearly 240 people in the country will suffer a stroke. Some who survive will recover fully ­– but many people are left with lasting disabilities. The good news is that strokes can be prevented. Know your risk factors and manage them accordingly. This is far simpler and more effective than waiting until something happens and trying to manage the consequences.

To ensure you keep your heart in optimum health, remember to regularly get your essential check ups done. If you haven’t checked your cholesterol and blood pressure lately be sure to schedule these health checks with your GP soon.

Read more about heart and stroke health here…

The heart attack gender gap (infographic)
What happens in your body during a stroke (infographic)
Your stroke treatment journey (infographic)
Early warning signs of stroke
The different kinds of stroke: how they happen and how they harm your health
FAQs: Stroke – common questions, answered
Signs and symptoms of a stroke

Published in Heart & stroke

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