S-T-R-O-K-E. The six-letter word is capable of instilling fear in the heart of any middle aged person, because its onset might as well be the end of life as you know it, and the beginning of a journey to the world of pain, dotted with much spending on hospital visits, medications, and rehabilitation.
Stroke is no fun for both the victim and the caregivers – be they family or medics.
While it’s not exclusively a female health problem, medical statistics show that women are more prone to developing a stroke, compared to men. Worse still, statistics show, 60 per cent of stroke deaths occur in females, while the other 40 per cent occur in males.
In fact, the very factors that make you a woman also predispose you to the possibility of developing a stroke later in life, experts warn. These include pregnancy, childbirth, and your female hormones. But while you may be helpless about these factors, there’s plenty you could do to keep in good health and keep a stroke at bay.
Experts say in order to minimise damage and make for effective treatment, a stroke must be diagnosed within the first three hours of the first symptoms.
Symptoms of a stroke
A neurologist, Dr. Segun Adewoye, says symptoms of a stroke include confusion, trouble with speaking and understanding, headache (possibly with altered consciousness or vomiting), numbness of the face, arm or leg (particularly on one side of the body) and trouble with seeing in one or both eyes.
The World Health Organisation adds, “Other symptoms include difficulty understanding speech; difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; severe headache with no known cause; fainting or unconsciousness.”
The woman factor
The online portal, stroke.org, notes that in addition to the general risk factors such as family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, lack of exercise, and being overweight, as a woman you are faced with unique risk factors! What are they? Read on.
Birth control pills
Yes, we know that we have to control our family by limiting the number of children we give birth to. This is a herculean task for any woman of childbearing age, considering that some men still see family planning as a woman’s thing. Consequently, women are exposed to all sorts of drug interventions that aim to control their fertility.
In some women, scientists warn, oral contraceptives increase the risk of high blood pressure and blood clots. Physicians warn that the risk is greater if you smoke, already have high blood pressure, are over the age of 40, have other risk factors for heart disease or stroke, or already have a blood-clotting problem.
Gynaecologists say the greatest concern about using oral contraceptives is that additional risk factors, such as age, smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes expose women to the risk of having a stroke in a lifetime.
They warn that women who take even a low-estrogen birth control pill may be twice as likely to have a stroke as those who don’t; and the risk may increase if other risk factors are present.
Consultant gynaecologist, Dr. Mary Ogidan, counsels that women should be screened for high blood pressure before they are allowed to take birth control pills.
“This is because hypertension, also called high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for stroke. High blood pressure can damage arteries throughout the body. Weakened arteries in the brain put you at much higher risk for stroke, since a stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts – depending on the type of stroke involved.
“That’s why a patient’s blood pressure is of the essence each time they visit the hospital,” Ogidan explains.
In any culture or civilisation, being pregnant is usually joyful news, because a new baby would be born. But then, pregnancy also predisposes a woman to the possibility of strokes later in life, experts warn.
Scientists say stroke risk increases during a normal pregnancy due to the natural changes in the body such as increased blood pressure and stress on the heart.
Worse, physicians say, if you’re obese, younger than 20 or older than 40 years of age when pregnant; or if you are pregnant with more than one baby, or have diabetes, kidney disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, then your chances for preeclampsia are enormous.Ogidan adds, “Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterised by high blood pressure and it typically starts after the 20th week of pregnancy. It doubles a woman’s risk of a stroke later in life. That’s why we urge pregnant women to be in regular touch with their doctors. It’s the least they can do to keep alive and also have a healthy baby.”
Hormone Replacement Therapy
For women, menopause is a new experience that needs plenty of adjusting to, as it usually happens midlife, bringing with it a lot changes that sometimes cause concern for the menopausal woman and her family.
Physicians have been attempting answers to some of the conundrums that menopause poses, what with the offer of a combined hormone therapy of progestin and estrogen that is now being suspected of doing more harm than relieving menopausal symptoms.
Consultant Reproductive Endocrinologist, Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, says the actual problem has to do with synthetic chemicals. He notes that natural, plant-based hormone replacement therapy does not have the untoward side effects associated with the synthetic ones.
The bottom line
Experts advise that reducing even one risk can greatly lower your chances of having a stroke. In other words, you are not as helpless as you may want to believe when it comes to the risks of having a stroke.