Belly Fat Is Culprit in Stroke Gender Gap
Middle-Aged Women 3 Times as Likely to Have Had a Stroke Than Men
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 25, 2010 (San Antonio) -- The midlife gender gap in stroke rates
continues to widen, with women aged 45 to 54 now three times more likely than
men in that age group to report having had a stroke.
Several years ago, the same researchers reported that between 1999 and 2004,
women aged 45 to 54 were more than twice as likely as their male counterparts
to have had a stroke.
The findings created a stir in the medical community as middle-aged women
before menopause have long been thought to be protected against heart
So what's driving this disturbing trend? Then, like now, tummy fat appears
to be to blame, says Amytis Towfighi, MD, an assistant professor of neurology
at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
In the current analysis, stroke risk factors were worse in men than in women
-- all, that is, except weight gain around the waist, she says.
"Our hypothesis is abdominal obesity increases the risk of other risk
factors -- diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. Together, they
drive up the risk of stroke," Towfighi tells WebMD.
The study was presented at the American Stroke Association's (ASA)
International Stroke Conference.
Middle-Aged Stroke Gap Real
The new analysis was conducted to determine if the gender gap observed in
the earlier study was a real phenomenon or a fluke, Towfighi says. So she and
colleagues analyzed data on 2,136 men and women aged 35 to 64 who participated
in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey done from 2005 to
It was real, Towfighi says. Nearly 3% of women in that age group reported
having suffered a stroke, compared with only 1% of men.
The disparity appeared to be driven mainly by differences in the 45 to 54
age group, where women had 3.12 times the odds of having a stroke compared to
men, she says.
Seeking to find out why, the researchers then looked at a host of factors
that can affect risk, including smoking, high blood pressure, and high
"We found that in general, men were more likely to have conventional
cardiovascular risk factors," Towfighi says.