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Study: 1 in 5 women can't identify stroke symptoms

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Though women are at an escalated risk of stroke, recognition of stroke symptoms and signifiers remains low in this key demographic. A recent study by Columbia researchers, published in medical journal Stroke, suggests that 20 percent of women cannot identify even one sign of the sudden loss of brain function.

With 55,000 more women than men falling victim to strokes every year, it's a surprising statistic, and one that's indicative of a greater need for education around stroke symptoms. Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in women and the fourth in Americans overall, prompting the need for heightened awareness of the signs - obvious and otherwise.

Some of the less commonly recognized symptoms include the sudden onset of an acute headache, loss of vision, and dizziness. Better known symptoms include numbness on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, or limpness on the side of the face. It's of paramount importance that stroke symptoms are recognized early, with each second crucial in delivering adequate treatment to prevent permanent damage. 

The study surveyed 1,205 women, asking them to identify signs of a stroke and what to do if they thought they were experiencing one. Just over half of the women were aware that sudden onset of weakness was a crucial symptom, though despite this low number, 84 percent knew to call 911. Best intentions aside, a lack of symptom recognition would do little to prompt 911 calls. Poor knowledge of symptoms was particularly apparent among Hispanic women, though white and black women fared little better. Roughly a quarter of Hispanic women were unable to name any of the symptoms associated with stroke, compared to 19 percent of black women and 18 percent of white women. It's thought that this may be due to linguistic quirks, with 'stroke' unlikely to bear the same sense of urgency in Spanish. 

"This lack of recognition of stroke signs and symptoms could be a significant barrier to reducing death and disability related to stroke in the United States," said lead researcher Lori Mosca, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D. "This is critically important because delays in getting care costs lives and hinders functional recovery."

The study similarly reinforces Mosca's statement. "The ability to recognize stroke warning signs at their onset is associated with more rapid access to emergency care, which may result in decreased stroke-related morbidity and mortality," the study reads. "Addressing gaps in women's knowledge related to stroke warning signs may be a key initial step toward improving outcomes and reducing disparities."

Programs such as the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association's FAST campaign hope to increase awareness. FAST stands for Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to call 911 - with the pithy name hopefully instrumental in committing symptoms and course of action to memory. 

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