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Stroke Health Center

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Women's Spare Tire Tied to More Strokes

Weight Gain, Especially Around Waist, Linked to Higher Stroke Rates in Middle-Aged Women
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 20, 2008 (New Orleans) -- Bulging waistlines may be to blame for a rise in strokes among middle-aged women, researchers report.

In a large national study, weight gain, especially around the waist, was linked to an increase in strokes among women aged 35 to 54.

"Women ages 35 to 54 have higher stroke rates than men of those ages, and this is likely due to increasing rates of abdominal obesity," says researcher Amytis Towfighi, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

The study does not prove cause-and-effect. But the researchers found that traditional risk factors for stroke, such as smoking and high blood pressure, are not increasing among middle-aged women.

That gives weight to their hefty hypothesis, says Ralph Sacco, MD. Sacco, an American Stroke Association (ASA) spokesman and head of neurology at the University of Miami, was not involved with the research.

The findings are "alarming," he tells WebMD.

The study was presented at the ASA's International Stroke Conference.

Stroke Rates Higher in Women Than in Men

The new work builds on previous research that showed that between 1999 and 2004, women aged 45 to 54 were more than twice as likely as their male counterparts to report having had a stroke.

To determine if the gender gap was a real phenomenon or a fluke, the researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey done from 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2004.

It was real, Towfighi says. The stroke rates among women aged 35 to 54 tripled from the earlier time period to the later period: from 0.6% to 1.8%. The stroke rate among middle-aged men remained stable, at about 1%.

Seeking to find out why, the researchers looked at a host of factors that can affect risk, including smoking, diabetes, history of heart attack, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

"We did not find significant differences in presence of conventional cardiovascular risk factors," Towfighi says.

Obesity on the Rise

But the percentage of women who had abdominal obesity -- a waist circumference of 35 inches or more -- jumped from 47% in the first study to 59% in the later study. Among men, it increased from 29% to 41%.

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