Why are women more likely to have a stroke than men? It’s a combination of risk factors that women uniquely experience, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital report.
Stroke occurs when parts of the brain are starved of oxygen due to a blocked blood vessel. Almost 800,000 people suffer a stroke every year, with women having 55,000 more strokes overall than men. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. but the third leading cause of death for women.
"Many people don't realize that women suffer stroke more frequently than men, and mortality is much higher among women. As women age, they are much more likely to have a stroke as a first manifestation of cardiovascular disease rather than heart attack," explained corresponding author Kathryn Rexrode, MD, MPH.
The discrepancy in stroke risk between men and women comes from several risk factors unique to women, including hormone levels, hormone therapy, use of hormonal birth control, pregnancy, early age of menarche (less than ten years old), and early age of menopause (less than 45 years old).
In Rexrode’s new study, researchers analyzed these risk factors to understand more about why women are more susceptible to strokes than men. Rexrode’s review paper that accompanied the present study also looked at the differences between the sexes as far as stroke risk, scouring the scientific literature for ideas about developing preventative measures specifically for risk factors unique to the female experience.
In addition to the risk factors related to early ages of menarche and menopause, the review paper identified low levels of a hormone called dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS) and taking oral estrogen or combined oral contraceptives as additional risk factors for stroke for women.
While many of the risk factors listed that increase the likelihood of a woman experiencing stroke are common, researchers from the study still urge medical professionals to take them into considerations. This advice is particularly important for women with a history of pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, or hypertension.
"These women should be monitored carefully and they should be aware that they are at higher risk, and motivated to adhere to the healthiest lifestyle behaviors to decrease the risk of hypertension and subsequent stroke," Rexrode said.
The present study was published in the journal Stroke.