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Middle-aged Women Having More Strokes

February 21, 2008

Research presented on Wednesday points to an alarming spike in strokes in middle-aged women, and doctors say it’s due to increased obesity.

The study, presented at the International Stroke Conference in New Orleans, found that 2 percent of women ages 35 to 54 reported having a stroke between 1999 and 2004 ““ three times the approximate half a percent who reported strokes between 1988 to 1994.

Researchers were unable to blame smoking, heart disease or diabetes, as rates of the risk factors had not increased enough to account for the drastic upward statistic.

However, they did find a consistent rise in women’s body mass index, up from 27 in the earlier survey to 29. They also saw an increase in blood sugar levels.

Dr. Amytis Towfighi, the study’s lead author, is a neurology specialist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She conducted her study using the National Health and Nutrition Surveys, both federally-funded research projects which use questionnaires and checkups in the U.S.

Strokes among middle-aged men basically remained unchanged at around 1 percent. Towfighi said that the rise in belly fat among women ““ up from to 59 percent compared to 47 percent previously, accounted for the spike in the percentages.

“Abdominal obesity is a stronger risk factor for women than men,” she said.

In a “pre-stroke population” of middle-age women, a tripling of cases is “an alarming increase,” said Dr. Ralph Sacco, neurology chief at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine told Associated Press.

Traditionally, men have been at higher risk of having strokes than women, but Dr. Philip Gorelick, neurology chief at the University of Illinois in Chicago and chairman of the stroke conference, said that this may now be reversed in light of the new research.

“We need to redefine our textbooks about stroke in women,” he said.

Other studies presented at the conference shed new light on stroke issues as well.

A Michigan State University study looked at 850 hospitals participating in an American Heart Association quality improvement program from 2003 to 2007.

They found that in-hospital deaths of stroke victims during normal business hours were about 6 percent, while after-hours patient deaths were about 5 percent.

A second study of 2.4 million stroke patients in California found death rates of 10 percent on weekends and nights versus 8 percent during weekdays.

Doctors still agree that early detection and action is the best way to prevent the risk of death in stroke victims.

On the Net:

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