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Women between the ages of 45 and 54 are twice as likely to suffer strokes as men of the same age. Women are also more likely than men to be physically or mentally impaired as a result of a stroke. Unfortunately, doctors often overlook the opportunities to prevent strokes in women because of an emphasis in medical school that strokes and heart attacks are male problems.

According to the American Stroke Association, more than 100,000 American women under 65 suffer strokes every year. That’s well above the 83,000 women in the same range who have heart attacks. Studies show that physicians take longer to diagnose women as having suffered a stroke, and women are less likely to get treatments or tests that can improve chances for recovery.

Time is the biggest factor hindering the chances of avoiding death or a lifelong disability. There is a just a three-hour window to use a clot-busting drug test called tPA. However, according to a study of over 2,000 patients from researchers at Michigan State University, women are 30% less likely to receive tPA than men. One of the researchers noted that 60% of stoke-related deaths occur in women.

Of further concern is the post-diagnosis treatment women receive after having a stroke. Female patients often miss out on two tests that can help prevent future problems: the imaging of the carotid artery in the neck, which feeds blood to the brain, and an echocardiogram, which can show heart abnormalities, according to Lewis Morgenstern, director of the stroke program at the University of Michigan Medical School. According to Morgenstern, one in seven patients has a second stroke within a year, and these tests are crucial to their prevention.

* Many thanks to intern/law student Josh McIntyre for his contributions to this blog.

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