Midlife Stroke Most Common in Women

Stroke Risk More Than Twice as High for Women as Men Aged 45-54

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 20, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

June 20, 2007 -- The chance of having a stroke from ages 45 to 54 may be more than twice as high for women as for men.

Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) report that news online in the journal Neurology.

Amytis Towfighi, MD, and colleagues reviewed data from national health studies completed by some 15,300 U.S. adults between 1999 and 2004.

Participants were interviewed in their homes about their medical history. During those interviews, they were asked if a doctor had ever told them that they had had a stroke.

Stroke affects blood flow in the brain. In most strokes, a blood vessel in the brain is blocked. Those strokes are called ischemic strokes. Other strokes, called bleeding or hemorrhagic strokes, happen when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts.

Stroke is the No. 3 cause of death for U.S. adults. It's also a leading cause of disability.

Stroke becomes more common with age. It's relatively rare -- but still possible -- in middle-aged or young adults.

Stroke Study

Of the approximately 15,300 adults interviewed, only 606 said they had been diagnosed as having had a stroke.

As expected, stroke was most common in the survey's oldest participants. However, stroke was also reported by 2.5% of women and 1% of men aged 45-54.

Why were women more than twice as likely as men in that age group to have had a stroke? The study doesn't answer that definitively. However, women with a history of heart disease and with larger waists were more likely to report a stroke.

The researchers also noticed that blood pressure and total cholesterol levels rose more steeply in women than in men aged 45-54.

Worsening blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity may partly explain why women appeared to be more vulnerable to stroke than men in their mid 40s to mid 50s, the researchers note.

9 Tips for Stroke Prevention

The CDC's web site lists nine steps people can take to help prevent stroke:

  • Prevent and control high blood pressure.
  • Prevent and control diabetes.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Prevent and control high cholesterol.
  • Treat atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart rhythm).
  • Don't drink alcohol excessively.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get regular physical activity -- at least 30 minutes per day on most days, with your doctor's permission.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables without a lot of artery-clogging saturated fat.

Stroke Symptoms: What to Do

Seek emergency medical care at the first sign of a possible stroke.

Swift stroke treatment may make a big difference, and some stroke drugs are given within the first few hours after symptoms start.

Possible warning signs of stroke include:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body.
  • Abrupt loss of vision, strength, coordination, sensation, speech, or the ability to understand speech. These symptoms may become more marked over time.
  • Sudden dimness of vision, especially in one eye.
  • Sudden loss of balance, possibly accompanied by vomiting, nausea, fever, hiccups, or trouble with swallowing.
  • Sudden and severe headache with no other cause followed rapidly by loss of consciousness.
  • Brief loss of consciousness.
  • Unexplained dizziness or sudden falls.
WebMD Health News


SOURCES: Towfighi, A. Neurology, June 20, 2007; advance online edition. WebMD Medical Reference: "Understanding Stroke -- the Basics." CDC: "Stroke Prevention." WebMD Medical News: "Understanding Stroke -- Symptoms." News release, American Academy of Neurology.

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