Awareness of symptoms could save more women from common stroke misdiagnosis

Almost 15 years ago, I got a call that no daughter would ever want to get.

It was my dad on the phone, and I immediately knew something was wrong.

“Your mom’s had a stroke,” he said. “You need to get here right away.”

Thankfully my mom is still with us. She fully recovered, and in the past 15 years she hasn’t had a second stroke.

However, it could have easily gone another way, especially if her symptoms had been less obvious when my dad took her to the emergency room.

Stroke symptoms the same across genders

My mom had the typical symptoms you think of with a stroke:

• Sudden weakness
• Face drooping
• Speech difficulties

But not everyone experiences a stroke the same way.

There are some symptoms doctors consider “atypical” but are still signs that you’re having a minor stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) — symptoms like dizziness, tingling and confusion.

And men and women both experience these atypical stroke symptoms equally. The only difference is in the inequality of diagnosis…

Women much less likely to be given stroke diagnosis

According to a new study by researchers from the University of Calgary, women who are having a minor stroke are less likely to be diagnosed with a stroke compared to men — even though they describe similar symptoms to the doctor in the emergency room.

“In our study, men were more likely to be diagnosed with TIA or minor stroke, and women were 10 percent more likely to be given a non-stroke diagnosis, for example migraine or vertigo, even though men and women were equally likely to report atypical stroke symptoms,” says study lead author Dr. Amy Yu, M.D., a stroke neurologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

Yup, women are more likely to be written off as just having a migraine or vertigo and then sent home to possibly have another even worse stroke since TIAs are often a warning sign that another stroke is coming.

In fact, the University of Calgary study found that women are just as likely as men to have another stroke or even a heart attack within 90 days of a TIA.

So, why the difference in likelihood of receiving an accurate diagnosis?

Well, the researchers aren’t sure but say that it’s possible that the way patients of each gender report their symptoms, as well as interpretation of symptoms by the physician — or a combination of both — could explain the discrepancy in diagnosis among men and women.

Awareness of symptoms could save your life

The takeaway is to be aware of atypical symptoms of a minor stroke — dizziness, tingling and confusion — so that you’re able to advocate for yourself if you don’t feel you’re receiving the care you need.

“What’s important to recognize in stroke is that the brain has so many different functions and when a stroke is happening, people can feel different things beyond the typical stroke symptoms,” says Dr. Yu. “Accurately diagnosing TIA and stroke would change a patient’s treatment plan and could help prevent another stroke from happening.”

You should also know your risk factors for stroke including:

• High blood pressure
• Atrial fibrillation
• Smoking
• High cholesterol
• Having diabetes
• Sedentary lifestyle
• Being overweight
• Family history of stroke

Some of those risks you can’t control, like your family history, but others are 100 percent in your hands…

Controlling your risk

One of the most important things you can do is maintain healthy blood pressure. And there are some simple ways to accomplish that goal…

Exercising regularly, reducing your salt and caffeine intake, losing any extra weight and managing stress are vital steps.

You should also take blood pressure supporting supplements including:

• Vitamin K2 to help keep your arteries clear, elastic and pliable

• Grape seed extract to activate nitric oxide, relax your arteries and promote blood flow

• Pterostilbene to help block the formation of an enzyme known as Angiotensin II that stiffens your arteries and forces your body to hold in sodium

• Green tea extract to soothe inflammation and promote heart health

Remember, women are just as likely as men to experience atypical symptoms when they suffer a stroke. Be aware of the possible symptoms, use the tips above to control your risk factors and protect yourself from the dangers that come with a TIA.