Brain health: Here is why women are at a higher risk of strokes, as compared to men



  • Every two seconds, someone in the world suffers a stroke. What’s even more alarming is that stroke is the second highest cause of death worldwide, with 6 in 10 deaths occurring in women! This condition often begins with a sudden feeling of numbness or weakness on one side of the body followed by difficulties in vision, speech, and loss of coordination in the body. Stroke may occur either due to obstructed blood supply to the brain or the rupture of a blood vessel, causing brain cells to die.
  • There is a greater burden of stroke among women than men for several reasons. Firstly, as women have a longer life expectancy than men, they are at a greater disadvantage as the risk of stroke increases with age. Women also tend to experience more severe strokes than men. This is generally observed among postmenopausal women belonging to older age groups, where the protective effects of estrogen have waned off. In this article, Dr. P.N Sylaja, MD, DM, FRCP Edin, FESO, FIAN Professor of Neurology, In-Charge, Comprehensive Stroke Care Program, SCTIMST, Trivandrum, talks about why and how women are at an increased risk of strokes, as compared to men.
Why women are at increased risk of stroke
There is much disparity regarding the aetiology, or type of stroke seen in men and women. This is mainly due to the difference in the risk factors among genders. Men with a history of coronary artery disease and heart failure tend to develop a stroke more frequently, whereas a greater number of women diagnosed with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation and rheumatic heart disease are at a higher risk of having a stroke. A small study conducted we conducted in Kerala showed that only one-third of the stroke patients brought to the hospital were women – with cardioembolic strokes being more common, with a history of rheumatic heart disease, whereas large vessel atherosclerosis was the common cause among men.
Studies show that women suffering from stroke are brought to the hospital late, even though they respond much better than men to thrombolytic or endovascular therapies – the only two therapeutic interventions that are currently available to patients brought to the hospital within 24 hours from the initial symptoms.
The more severe strokes in women at the onset, lack of caregiver support which is usually seen in female patients also lead to poorer outcomes. This is slated to have escalating proportions of stroke cases which could easily be avoided if appropriate awareness is mandated among women.
Providing women with gender-specific awareness, preventative measures, and much-needed caregiver support to stroke survivors will increase their chances of recovery. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, “choose to challenge” is apt in beating stroke, as women can be torchbearers in educating each other, and how alertness and immediate action can help save a life!


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