Headaches, hiccups & more surprising stroke signs for women

We've found that women overwhelmingly can’t identify the risks and symptoms for stroke that differ from the typical signs for men.

Get educated about these indicators and risk factors that come straight from doctors at the Comprehensive Stroke Center at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.


One woman’s missed symptoms

Callie Earliwine, who worked as a critical care nurse at a Wexner Medical Center-affiliated hospital, is trained to recognize subtle signs of problems in her patients, but she missed warnings that she was about to have a stroke.

She thought stress caused her migraines, dizziness and tremors before the stroke hit her when she was at work in 2015 at the Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling, West Virginia.

When her symptoms started at age 32, she says she never thought she could have a stroke that young.

“Get checked out. Get lab works done. Tell your doctor some of your symptoms," advises Earliwine, whose hand tremor and migraines had subsided a year later. "I want to be here for my family. I want to be here for my little girl.”

She’s not alone. A national survey released by the Wexner Medical Center last May for Stroke Awareness Month showed how in the dark women are on this issue.

About nine in 10 women could not identify stroke risks or symptoms specific to women.CallieEarliwine

This has to change because stroke is the third leading cause of death for women, according to the National Stroke Association.

Women also need to know the common risks and symptoms for all people:

  • Get to the hospital FAST. If you notice Facial droop, Arm numbness or Slurred speech, it's Time to call 911.
  • People have more risk of stroke if they smoke, are obese or have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. Learn more about stroke prevention.

Not just a man’s disease

Diana Greene-Chandos, MD, a neurologist and director of neuroscience critical care at the Wexner Medical Center, says there is a long way to go in educating women about their unique risk factors.

“Women do not think that they’re going to have a stroke. They think of it as a man’s disease,” she says.

Women have more headaches with their strokes, or sometimes they get hiccups with a little bit of chest pain, Dr. Greene-Chandos says. Women have to weigh the risks of stroke with the benefits of taking birth control pills or getting hormone replacement therapy, she explains.

She wants more women to learn these signs and risks so they go to the hospital quickly if they suspect a stroke.

Act FAST: Treatment within a few hours of the onset of stroke is key to busting up clots!

“Women shouldn’t ignore their symptoms or hope they will go away because they may lose their opportunity to receive acute treatment,” Dr. Greene-Chandos says.

Find out the stroke risk for you or your loved ones with this simple pen-and-paper scorecard:

Test your stroke risk

In this short video, Dr. Greene-Chandos talks over the stroke signs and risk factors unique to women:

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