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Strokes Affect Young Women, Too

A young woman is more likely to die of stroke than both breast cancer and AIDS combined, according to the November issue of Prevention magazine.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay will explain on Tuesday the risk factors and how women can lessen their chance of stroke.

Senay says women who are smokers and take contraceptive pills are three times more likely to have a stroke as are women with high blood pressure and diabetes; women who have high blood pressure, diabetes and smoke are six times more likely to have a stroke; and women with high blood pressure, diabetes, with an irregular heartbeat, heart disease and who smoke are 27 times greater than normal at risk for stroke.

Doctors recommended adult women have an annual gynecological appointment, including a breast exam and pap smear, but Senay recommends women get screened for cardiovascular risk factors, too. She says it is the best way to observe a person's risk for stroke.

High cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, poor diet, medication, sedentary lifestyle, obesity as well as family history all weigh into the calculation of stroke risk. Those at high risk of a stroke may be recommended to have some form of testing specifically for stroke risk, but Senay says you have to know what your baseline risk factors are.

According to studies, 60 percent of women who have strokes will die from it, compared to 40 percent of men. One reason is that emergency room physicians and EMTs are trained to look for typical stroke symptoms, such as slurred speech or paralysis.

Senay says women stroke victims tend to have different or additional symptoms, including severe headaches, disorientation or pain in the face, arm or legs. The other problem is that it is not common knowledge that young women are at risk for stroke. So many doctors don't even consider the possibility that a woman under 40 could be having a stroke, even if she does exhibit symptoms.

A very important method of treatment is given to stroke victims within 3 hours of the incident to minimize damage. If a woman doesn't go to the ER or the doctors don't recognize she's having a stroke, Senay explains, she's not going to get the treatment she needs.

Senay says women should be aware of the following to detect a possible stroke:

  • Pay attention to sudden numbness or weakness of the face or limbs, particularly on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion or difficulty in speaking or understand speech is another symptom
  • Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Sudden lack of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, extremely severe headache without a known cause

    If you think you may be having a stroke, you should get to a hospital immediately.

    Senay does clarify that most of the oral contraceptives on the market today have a much lower hormone level, and thus less of a stroke risk, than older brands. There are many health benefits from oral contraceptives, but it is something to discuss with your physician if you fit into other high-risk categories.

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