Different Strokes for Different Folks

Asked what they considered to be the leading cause of death among women, most people don’t hesitate to pin the blame on breast cancer. Well, think again — women, in fact, are at greater risk of dying as a result of a stroke than they are of breast cancer.

Another misconception: Stroke is predominantly a male problem, right? Guess again. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation almost 60 per cent of the 50,000 strokes in Canada annually affect women. In fact, stroke is responsible for almost 10 per cent of all female deaths each year in Canada, as opposed to just under six per cent for men. In 1993 alone, 8,951 women died in Canada as a result of stroke.

While signs and symptoms are generally the same for both men and women, certain risk factors have a greater significance for women. For example:

  • per cent of women aged 18-74, and one half of all post-menopausal women aged 55-64, have high blood pressure raising their risk significantly.

  • Women who smoke have a 60 per cent greater chance of having a stroke than their nonsmoking counterparts. For women who smoke and take oral contraceptives, the risk of stroke increases up to 22 times.

    &t;I>Women with a family history of stroke face double the risk if any family member had a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) before the age of 65.

  • Women with diabetes are twice as likely to have stroke than women who do not have diabetes.

  • Overweight women are twice as likely to experience a stroke.

  • Women with heart disease face double the risk of stroke.
  • One of the reasons for increased incidence of stroke amongst women is linked to longevity — the longer they live, the greater the risk. Women also suffer strokes at a later age (70 years versus 65 years of age for men). As a result, 71 per cent of these women are widowed or single, versus 26 per cent of men at the time of their stroke. The Heart and Stroke Foundation also noticed other differences between the sexes:

    • Women may recover better from language loss after a stroke.

  • Men usually go home or to rehabilitation — women are mainly transferred to chronic care institutes.

  • Women are more likely to face longer hospital stays following a stroke — 42 days versus 30 days for men. This is generally due to social factors, medical factors and concurrent medical problems, not to neurological status.

  • The presence of a spouse to provide support is significantly lower for women (39 per cent) than it is for men (82 per cent).

  • Studies have shown 63 per cent of women with no family support survived their stroke, compared to 71 per cent of women who had support.


  • Dr. Ken Walker practises medicine in Toronto and also writes under the pen name of Gifford-Jones.—>