Medical students interested in a career focused on brain health and the effects of stroke should be aware that stroke claims the lives of nearly 130,000 Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This fact means that on average, one person dies every four minutes.1 Doctors and medical assistants see more than 600,000 people every year who have survived their first stroke. Combining the costs of medications to treat the effects of stroke with the cost of health care services and the price of missed days of work, strokes cost the U.S. more than $36 billion a year. 1 These shocking facts have motivated neurologists to do in-depth research into the risk factors for stroke and which populations of people are the most likely to having a stroke.
Women recover slower from stroke than men
Medical assistants are often the first point of contact for patients and can create relationships with their patients with open lines of communication. Knowing how their male and female patients react differently to ailments is an important factor in creating these relationships, and studies that many medical students examine can offer insight into gender differences. One such study that was conducted found that women experience a tougher recovery process after a stroke than men.2 Researchers investigated the quality of life of 1,370 patients aged 56 to 77 who had experienced ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attacks. The study focused on the patients’ mobility, daily activities, self-care, pain and depression or anxiety levels three months to one year after their stroke or attack.2
Three months after their attack, female participants reported more problems with mobility, everyday activities, depression, anxiety and pain.The researchers kept stroke severity, sociodemographic variables and disabilities in the equation, and still found that women experienced a worse quality of life than men up to a year later.2 The results of this study support earlier research that has found that women are not as healthy as men after a stroke. The researchers speculated that pre-existing limitations with strength or muscle function may contribute to women’s inability to fully recover. Women also were expected to have higher expectations for recovery than men, which may have lead to more reported instances of depression in female patients.2
Different risk factors increase the risk of stroke in women
The American Heart Association (AHA) collaborated on a study into the different risk factors for women who have had a stroke. The American Stroke Association (ASA) and the University of Chicago published a review of both the common and unique factors that can cause women to have a stroke, and a new study has determined that birth control, pregnancy, depression, menopause and other factors heighten risk of stroke in women.3
According to the new guidelines published by the AHA to prevent strokes in women, female patients should be screened for high blood pressure before starting on oral contraceptives because the risk of stroke is increased when high blood pressure and birth control are combined. Women aged 45 to 49 experience more of a risk if they take regular birth control medication.4 The risk for stroke is higher during pregnancy as well, particularly during the last three month and right after delivery. Doctors or medical assistants should monitor their pregnant patients for preeclampsia, which is dangerously high blood pressure that can cause a seizure and other problems. Preeclampsia doubles the risk of stroke later on in life and quadruples the risk of high blood pressure after pregnancy.4
The new, more gender-specific advice for women also discusses the effects of migraines on stroke risk for women. Women are four times more likely to have migraines than men, and they often coincide with changes in hormones.4 Using birth control and smoking can increase the risk for women to experience an aura with migraine, which is the real risk factor. The researchers say further research is needed to find out more about the risk factors for stroke in women. A female-specific set of guidelines is needed to identify women who are vulnerable, and doctors and their assistants should be prepared to counsel their female patients on risks to their health.
Vitamin C deficiency is found to be a risk factor for stroke
A group of researchers studied how eating foods rich in Vitamin C can help reduce the chance for bleeding in the brain, known as hemorrhagic stroke. Vitamin C plays a role in reducing blood pressure and prevents brain bleeding by maintaining the health of blood vessels.5 The researchers studied the levels of Vitamin C in 65 patients that had suffered a stroke and compared them with 65 healthy participants. The results revealed that only those participants with depleted Vitamin C levels in their blood experienced a stroke, while the people who did not have stroke had normal levels of vitamin C in their blood. They also found that participants with deficient Vitamin C levels were hospitalized for a longer time.5
The conclusion stated that vitamin C deficiency should be considered a risk factor for severe types of stroke just like high blood pressure, drinking alcohol and being overweight.5 The findings support the ability of vitamin C to prevent brain bleeding and strokes. Fruits and vegetables including oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, and broccoli contain high amounts of Vitamin C. Stroke is the third leading causes of death for women and fifth leading cause for men in the U.S. Doctors and medical assistants should work closely with patients to recognize symptoms and treat them quickly to prevent disabilities, especially in female patients. Medical personnel should counsel patients in ways to change their lifestyle, maintain a healthy diet and perform regular physical activities to ward off this life-threatening problem.
1 “Stroke Statistics & Maps,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.gov, http://www.cdc.gov/stroke/statistics_maps.htm
2 Lees,Kathleen , “Strokes Hurt Women’s Lives more than Men,” Science World Report.com, Feb 07, 2014, http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/12745/20140207/strokes-hurt-womens-lives-more-than-men.htm
3 Bhatt,Vanishree “New Guidelines to Prevent Strokes in Women, Focus on Risks from Birth Control, Pregnancy,” Science World Report.com, Feb 07, 2014, http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/12726/20140207/new-guidelines-to-prevent-strokes-in-women-focus-on-the-risks-from-birth-control-pregnancy.htm
4 Guidelines to prevent stroke in women focus on risks from pregnancy, birth control,” Fox News.com, February 07, 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/02/07/guidelines-to-prevent-stroke-in-women-focus-on-risks-from-pregnancy-birth/
5 Bhatt, Vanishree, “Vitamin C Helps Reduce Risk of Stroke and Hemorrhage: Study,” Science World Report.com,Feb 15, 2014,