June is Stroke Awareness Month in Canada. More than 400,000 Canadians are living with long-term disability from stroke and that figure is expected to almost double in the next 20 years, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Although similar numbers of women and men are living with the effects of stroke, 59% of stroke deaths occur in women, according to Health Canada.
Raising awareness about stroke prevention and warning signs is especially important for women because more women than men die from stroke each year and women suffer greater disability after a stroke, according to the Canadian Stroke Network.
The outcomes may be worse partly because women are less likely than men to seek help promptly when they suffer a stroke, which reduces the chances of a successful recovery, say University of Toronto researchers. Another challenge is that many older women, who are at higher risk of stroke, live alone and are less likely than men to have social supports and a spouse to care for them.
Expanding research to include women
Historically, heart disease and stroke have been regarded as predominantly male diseases and most research was done on men. While two-thirds of heart disease clinical research still focuses on men, a growing number of Canadian women scientists are doing heart and stroke research to improve our understanding of these conditions in women, reports Heart and Stroke.
Reduce risks you can control
The main controllable risk factors for stroke are the same for both genders, says Heart and Stroke. Women can prevent and reduce their risk of stroke by controlling blood pressure and blood sugar levels, being physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking, eating a heathy diet, and treating conditions, like atrial fibrillation, that increase the chances of blood clots forming, says the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
Recognize the warning signs
It’s essential for women and men to know the warning signs of stroke, advises PHAC, and immediately call 911 or their local emergency number when these occur:
-Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg
-Sudden severe and unusual headache
-Dizziness or sudden loss of balance
The faster a person can get to a hospital and be treated, the greater the chance of preventing permanent damage. A University of Calgary study found female stroke patients benefit even more than male patients from new stroke treatments, such as clot-busting therapy, that are substantially improving stroke outcomes.