Gender Matters in Diagnosis of Mild Strokes

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Studies have shown that women who suffer a serious stroke are less likely than men to get an accurate diagnosis. New findings, reported in 2019 in JAMA Neurology, demonstrate that the same gender disparity holds true for a minor stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA). That is, women are less likely than men to be correctly diagnosed.

In a study led by scientists at the University of Toronto, researchers examined data from a cohort of 1,648 men and women seen in emergency rooms for symptoms that suggested a mild stroke. Men and women were equally likely to report both the typical symptoms of a stroke— sudden weakness, drooping face, speech difficulties—and less-typical symptoms, such as dizziness, tingling, and confusion. But women were nearly 10 percent less likely to be diagnosed with a stroke or TIA, even when reporting the same symptoms as men. Among women, 522 of 770 were diagnosed with a mild stroke (68 percent), compared with 674 of 878 men (77 percent).

That’s worrisome, since the researchers also found that the risk of having another stroke or a heart attack within the next 90 days was the same in men and women. By failing to correctly diagnose a mild stroke in a small but significant percentage of women showing up in emergency rooms, the researchers concluded, doctors may be missing an opportunity to prevent subsequent strokes.

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