Stroke Risk has Declined for Men, But Not for Women

While the incidence of stroke in men has been decreasing in recent years, the same is not true for women. New research finds the rate of ischemic strokes, which represent 85 percent of cases, has remained flat among women.

Both men and women are at risk of suffering ischemic strokes, which occur as a result of an obstruction within a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain. The study published in Neurology found that ischemic stroke incidence in men had decreased to 165 per 100,000 men in 2010, down from 238 in 1993–94. But for women, the incidence was 173 per 100,000 in 2010, down from 193 in 1993–94. That’s a statistically insignificant change among women.

Felipe De Los Rios, M.D., Medical Director, Stroke Program at Baptist Health Neuroscience Center, who is one of the study’s co-authors, cautions that we cannot yet fully explain why women have not seen the same improvement in stroke rates as men.

“It is possible that women are affected differently by the known stroke risk factors, such as diabetes, or that these risk factors are not being treated as aggressively as in men,” explains Dr. De Los Rios. “Diabetes might be partly to blame, but women may have other risk factors that are not being adequately targeted. It’s probably a mix of things. This study was not designed to explain the difference, but rather showcase these trends.”

The study reviewed cases of patients with incidents of ischemic stroke within available data on 1.3 million people residing in a five-county region of southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. This group of Americans is “representative of the United States population in terms of age, percent of people that are black, household income, level of education completed, and proportion of people below the poverty line,” the study says.

The research highlights the importance of further research into the major risk factors for stroke in women, which include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, being overweight and smoking. Every year, nearly 800,000 people in the U. S. have a stroke. In some cases, survivors are left with paralysis on one side of the body, speech or vision problems or memory loss — and long-term rehabilitation is required.

There are other factors that may help explain the disparity in stroke rates between men and women, says Dr. De Los Rios.

“We know that age is a driver for stroke incidents,” he says. “As you age, your risk for stroke is higher. And we know that women live longer than men.”

Another variable may be that men are more likely to regularly use aspirin to help prevent both strokes and heart attacks. “We already know that there is less use of aspirin among women compared to men,” says Dr. De Los Rios. “And we know that aspirin among women aged 55 to 79 years old can be of benefit.”

For now, the biggest takeaway from this study is for women of all ages to recognize and control their risk factors for stroke.

“For whatever reason, we have been more successful in preventing strokes in men than in women,” says Dr. De Los Rios. “Further research is needed to bridge this gap.”

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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