Women's Health Hot Line


You don't have to be a senior citizen to have a stroke

Think strokes happen only to older people?

Most of us do, but according to the experts, this is an outmoded idea. More than one-fourth of all strokes -- 28 percent -- occur in people under age 65. And although strokes hit men more than women, more women die from them, according to the American Heart Association's latest statistics. (This is probably because most women are older when they suffer from strokes and are more likely to have other problems as well, such as heart disease or diabetes.)

There are several risk factors for stroke, including age, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Smoking doubles your stroke risk. The good news for smokers, though, is that the risk of stroke falls quickly after you kick the habit.

Stroke: Don't "die" of embarassment

Referring to stroke as a women's health "problem" is an understatement -- each year 90,000 women die of stroke and scores more are left disabled.

Not long ago, stroke was considered an inevitable consequence of aging. It was assumed nothing could be done to prevent a stroke and if it occurred, nothing could be done to halt the resulting brain damage.

Sometimes this is still the case. But today stroke is considered not only a manageable problem but sometimes even a preventable or reversible one. Unfortunately, the public's perception -- and sometimes even that of doctors -- has not caught up to today's reality.

To fix this, the American Heart Association has launched a campaign urging people not to "die" of embarrassment. What they mean is: Don't delay getting help out of concern you might be embarrassed if it turns out your symptoms are not due to stroke.

Prompt attention is important to saving lives and to staving off brain damage. Increasingly, doctors are looking at new techniques which may reduce or even prevent brain damage, but only if they are promptly administered.

Often people delay seeking help because they don't recognize the symptoms of stroke, which we've listed below. If you experience any of them, seek immediate medical help. If the symptoms are fleeting, don't disregard them. You may be experiencing a TIA, or "transient ischemic attack," which is also an important warning sign.

Stroke Symptoms
  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body;
  • Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding others;
  • Dimness or impaired vision, particularly in only one eye or half of both eyes;
  • Confusion, which comes on suddenly;
  • Sudden unexplained dizziness;
  • Sudden onset of unsteadiness or lack of coordination; frequent falls; difficulty walking;
  • Sudden excruciating headache;
  • Recent change in personality or mental abilities, including memory loss.