According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five women will have a stroke during her lifetime. The risk of a stroke increases with age, and African-American women are twice as likely to have a stroke than white women. Being a woman means getting yourself familiar with stroke symptoms and knowing what to do if you think you’re having a medical emergency.

Stroke Symptoms in Women

The common symptoms of a stroke are the same in men and women. Both may experience numbness in a body part, such as their arms, legs, or face. The numbness may be on both sides of the body or only on one side. Vision problems and speech problems often accompany a stroke, causing blurred vision and the inability to speak clearly. Dizziness or loss of balance also often accompany a stroke in both men and women as does a sudden, intense headache.

But women have additional symptoms beyond the commons one shared with men. A recent U.S. News and World Report article outlined additional symptoms including sleepiness, nausea, tingling sensation in any part of the body, behavior changes, and memory loss.

The National Stroke Association also outlines symptoms unique to women: “Loss of consciousness or fainting, general weakness, difficulty or shortness of breath, confusion, unresponsiveness or disorientation, sudden behavioral change, agitation, hallucination, nausea or vomiting, pain, seizures, hiccups.” Of course, a random case of hiccups on their own is not a cause for alarm, but all of these more unusual symptoms may be present with the more common symptoms of a stroke.

Learn the F.A.S.T. Acronym

Use the F.A.S.T. acronym to determine whether you’re having a medical emergency and need to seek immediate help. The “F” in F.A.S.T. stands for “face.” If you ask the person to smile, both sides of their mouth should go up at the same time. They may be having a stroke if their smile looks uneven and one side of their face is drooping.

The “A” stands for “arms.” Ask the person to lift their hands above their head. Do both arms stay up, or does one or both arms immediately fall down again? They may be having a stroke if they can’t hold their arms above their head.

The “S” stands for “speech.” Anyone familiar with aphasia knows that speech can become slurred, garbled, or missing after a stroke. Ask the person to answer a few questions and judge whether or not their speech seems normal or strange.

Finally, the “T” stands for “time.” Getting help quickly is important during a stroke, so get the person to a hospital for evaluation if any of those symptoms exist.

All women should make the commitment to get “stroke smart” this year and take steps to reduce risk and know what to do in an emergency. It could save your life.

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