This Friday, February 4, 2022, is the Red Dress Day. This is an international public health campaign whose goal is to raise awareness about cardiovascular diseases with emphasis on strokes, especially in women. The campaign was first started by an American Heart Association in 2004, by the name “Go red for women”. Today it’s celebrated in more than 50 countries in the world.
What is a stroke?
World Health Organization defines a stroke (cerebrovascular insult, apoplexy, CVA) as a “rapidly progressive condition characterized by cerebral disturbance with symptoms lasting 24 hours or longer or leading to death, for no apparent reason other than that of vascular origin”. A stroke occurs because of an insufficient supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain due to blockage of blood vessels or bleeding in the brain because of a rupture of the blood vessels (then we talk about a hemorrhagic stroke). This is the second leading cause of death in the world, and we can consider it one of the epidemics of the 21st century.
Why does this movement emphasise women?
Vascular diseases in women have only recently begun to be thoroughly studied, when they were discovered to have their own specifics. Although women are considered less likely to have a stroke, this is only partially true. Namely, lower risk in women exists only in childbearing age, but the risk rate is equal to that of men after the onset of menopause. Also, a statistically higher number of women are dying from stroke now.
But it is also interesting that there are additional risk factors and symptoms of stroke in women.
Risk factors for stroke can be divided into those under our control (eg diet, physical activity, smoking, obesity, etc.) and those out of our control, and they include age, gender and genetic predispositions. In women, however, there are some specific risk factors, such as the use of oral contraceptives, pregnancy, preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), migraines and the use of hormone replacement therapy.
The general symptoms of stroke in men and women are similar, but atypical symptoms in women have also been found. General symptoms include weakness or loss of feel on one side of the body, speech problems, vision problems, sudden severe headaches, and difficulty coordinating movement. In addition, women experience loss of consciousness, general weakness, agitation, hallucinations, disorientation, difficulty breathing, nausea or vomiting, and hiccups.
What about prevention?
We know that we cannot fully influence the occurrence of stroke, but it is important to emphasize that there are certain lifestyle changes that we can implement that will lead to a reduction in risk in the long run. Proper nutrition is the first step in achieving this. Reduced salt intake is recommended, the increased consumption of which is the culprit for almost 20% of all hemorrhagic strokes. A study conducted by M. Bolland et al found that increased calcium intake was associated with a reduced likelihood of stroke, while L. D’Elia et al also demonstrated this for potassium. In addition, reduced intake of red meat and increased intake of fish and fruits and vegetables are recommended. The sweet tooths will be delighted by the fact that the consumption of chocolate is associated with a reduction in risk, and it is believed that this is possible due to the anti-inflammatory and antithrombotic effect of cocoa. In addition, moderate consumption of coffee and tea represents a reduction in the risk of stroke, compared to complete non-consumption.
Other recommended lifestyle changes are quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, moderate physical activity, and reduced alcohol consumption.
Overall, raising awareness on this topic and recognizing the symptoms and risk factors is very important, given that stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the world. It is also important to promote a healthy lifestyle to help prevent cases where this is possible.