World Stroke Day 2020: How understanding difference in cerebrovascular events between genders can improve treatment and care
A study published in Lancet Neurology in 2008 showed that although age-specific stroke incidence and mortality rates are higher among men, stroke has a much greater effect on women
World Stroke Day is observed on 29 October every year to spread awareness about stroke incidence, prevalence and mortality across the world. The theme for World Stroke Day 2020 is “Join the MoveMent” and it emphasizes the importance of physical activity and exercise in preventing strokes. Apart from active exercise, a recent study proved that even passive stretching can help reduce stroke risks. There are also a number of other ways to reduce stroke risk.
The need to recognise gender differences in strokes
What many people fail to realize is that stroke poses different risks, presents with different symptoms and has very different implications in the short as well as the long term among men and women. A study published in Lancet Neurology in 2008 showed that although age-specific stroke incidence and mortality rates are higher among men, stroke has a much greater effect on women because they live longer lives and stroke risks increase substantially in the oldest age groups.
What’s more, stroke-related outcomes like disability and quality of life are consistently and globally poorer in women. In many countries, elderly women tend to live alone and may be socially isolated, which leads to the risk of poor outcomes being multiplied. With a growing population of the aged in the coming decades, experts believe this gender disparity in stroke outcomes may only increase without proper intervention.
Sex disparity in stroke risks
A 2012 study in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism explains that the stroke risk factor profiles between men and women vary in a number of ways. They point out that atrial fibrillation and hypertension occur more often in female stroke patients. Sex hormone-related factors are also associated with stroke risks. The use of oral contraceptives and the hormonal upheavals that occur during multiple pregnancies, postpartum, peri- and post-menopausal periods increase stroke risks.
Moreover, menopause is associated with weight gain, metabolic syndrome, higher blood pressure and other common risk factors for stroke. This puts not only menopausal women at a higher risk, but also exacerbates said risks for women who have symptoms of early menopause due to cigarette smoking or poor nutritional quality due to low socioeconomic status. The study also points out that women with type 2 diabetes have a higher stroke risk as well.
Symptoms and treatment differences
In a study published in 2016 in the journal Vascular Medicine, researchers reveal that although studies regarding stroke symptom differences between men and women are limited and sparse, the available data indicates that women not only have more generalized symptoms but also tend to have non-traditional signs of a stroke. Women more often have symptoms like disorientation, generalized weakness, mental status change, headache, pain, altered consciousness, and some women have also been found to present with urinary incontinence, visual problems and dysphasia.
These differences in symptoms are relevant and need to be better identified because they not only affect the diagnosis of a stroke on time but can also impact treatment methods and the type of care medical professionals choose to provide female stroke patients with. If diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care are not tailored keeping the gendered risk factors and symptoms in mind, then it’s highly likely that women who suffer strokes will continue to have poorer health outcomes.
More research is needed to establish these gender differences in stroke cases to provide better treatment and prevention options to patients and those at risk. What’s also needed is better awareness about strokes, especially how it shows up in and affects women rather differently than men.
For more information, read our article on Stroke Prevention.
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