U.S. women still have higher stroke incidence than men

Research suggests possible link to abdominal fat

SAN ANTONIO — For reasons no one quite understands, U.S. women appear nearly three times as prone to have strokes as men.

Vascular neurologist Amytis Towfighi of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and her colleagues analyzed data from 2,274 people in 2005 and 2006. The participants were part of a large ongoing health study that had shown a doubled stroke risk for women age 45 to 54 compared with men when analyzed from 1999 to 2004.

“That went against thinking — women were thought to be protected against stroke until menopause,” she said.
But in the new analysis of women age 35 to 64, the researchers found that 2.90 percent of women had a stroke, compared with 1.07 percent of men. The difference once again arose predominantly during middle age, in the 45 to 54 year-old age group. The other two decades, when assessed individually, didn’t show significant stroke differences between the sexes. Towfighi presented the findings February 25 at the International Stroke Meeting.

While men and women shared many risk factors for stroke, the only risk factor that appeared worse in women than men was abdominal fat, Towfighi said.

“This is not direct proof, but it really suggests that abdominal obesity has something to do with the trend we’re observing,” she said. “This midlife sex disparity in stroke [for women] has persisted.” There is a chance that men are having as many strokes as women but are dying from them and therefore aren’t participating in this study, she said. “To pick that up we’ll have to look at incidence data. That’s really the next step.”

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