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Stroke: The Surprising Gender Gaps in Symptoms and Risks

A lot of attention has been directed recently at the surprising differences in heart attack symptoms between genders. But what about its equally dangerous cousin? We are talking about stroke, and there are marked differences in symptoms and risk factors between men and women.

According to the American Stroke Association (ASA), about 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year, with Black women being at the greatest risk.1

Leading Causes of Death by Gender


  1. Heart Disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Stroke
  4. Respiratory Disease
  5. Alzheimer's Disease


  1. Heart Disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Unintentional Injury
  4. Respiratory Disease
  5. Stroke
CDC: Women | Men

For both men and women, knowing the stroke warning signs to look for can truly mean the difference between life and death. For women specifically, this may mean looking for additional signs that are less common in men—and taking those symptoms seriously.

First, knowing the universal symptoms is important.

Symptoms Shared by Both Genders

There are several common warning signs of stroke. These symptoms typically occur suddenly. The ASA recommends using its F.A.S.T. Warning Signs method to spot the clues.2 They include the following:

Face Drooping Find a mirror and try to smile. Does one side of your face droop or feel numb?

Arm Weakness Try to raise both arms. Does one arm feel weak and difficult to raise?

Speech Difficulty Attempt to speak normally. Is your speech slurred or odd-sounding?

Time to call 9-1-1

Other symptoms common to both genders include numbness on one side of the body, difficulty seeing or walking, and severe headache.

Symptoms More Common in Women

In addition to universal symptoms, women are more likely to experience fatigue, confusion, general weakness and nausea or vomiting.3 Unfortunately, these symptoms are often brushed off and not recognized as stroke indicators.

One in five women will suffer a stroke in her lifetime.

This can be detrimental in the context of a stroke. Why? Because an essential element in stroke detection is timing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says treatment is most helpful if delivered within three hours of the first symptoms.4 When symptoms begin, the CDC recommends that you call 9-1-1 immediately—do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital.

An older woman and her three daughters standing in the background.

Knowing the Risks is Step One

For both genders, risk factors for stroke include hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and sickle cell disease. Genetics, family history and race or ethnicity can also play a role.

For women, here are some additional risk factors.1

  • Pregnancy – The risk of stroke is three times higher in pregnant women than non-pregnant women.
  • Preeclampsia – This is the term for high blood pressure during pregnancy and can double stroke risk.
  • Birth control pills – The risk of stroke is doubled in women on the pill, especially those with hypertension.
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – Contrary to previous thinking, HRT might actually increase stroke risk in women.
  • Migraines and smoking – The ASA says that together these are correlated with an increased stroke risk.
  • Atrial fibrillation – An irregular heartbeat is associated with a fivefold increase in stroke risk.

Thankfully, many of these risk factors are preventable. By keeping blood pressure in check, not smoking and paying attention to diet and exercise, women can take important steps to preventing stroke.

Critical Illness Insurance from Allstate Benefits

Critical Illness Insurance from Allstate Benefits can provide coverage for stroke, including specific stroke-related diagnoses like infarction of brain tissue (death of tissue), hemorrhage, and embolization from an extra-cranial source.

Contact an agent today to learn more about employee benefits package options for Critical Illness Insurance or click here for a quote.

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