Strokes Decline, But Only in Men
Strokes are a horrible, life-threatening event in which either a blockage in the brain cuts off blood flow and deprives cells in that area of oxygen or, less commonly, a blood vessel in the brain bursts spilling blood into the brain to much the same effect. They can leave victims temporarily or permanently disabled, or result in death. While overall stroke rates in the United States have been dropping over the last 20 years or so, this decline is not necessarily equal in all populations across the board. In fact, new research shows that while men are experiencing fewer strokes than in the past, women are not quite as lucky.
The study, which was conducted by a group of investigators at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; the University of Cincinnati in Ohio; Indiana University in Bloomington; and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, found that even as the stroke rate in adult men is decreasing, the rate in women has been essentially stagnant in recent years.1 This is based on an analysis of data on 1.3 million men and women residing in a region of five counties bordering southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky.
Over the 15 years of the study period, the stroke rate for men dropped notably, while there was little difference for women. Stroke rates for men were initially 263 strokes per 100,000 men and went down to 192 per 100,000 men by the end. In contrast, women began at 217 strokes per 100,000 women and only decreased to 198 per 100,000 women at the end. While a reduction existed for women, it was so slight as to make it not statistically significant.
In men, the difference was great enough that stroke is no longer the fourth leading cause of death as it was 15 years earlier, but has now fallen to fifth place. However, stroke still holds steady as the fourth leading cause of death among women. According to the study numbers, although men did start off at a much higher point than women, the findings show that they are actually lower now.
It is interesting that rates are declining in men when the major risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and diabetes, are all increasing. And this greater prevalence of various risk factors is despite far larger numbers of people prescribed pharmaceutical drugs to combat them. The researchers noted that there was a considerable uptick in individuals using medications designed to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels as well as aspirin, and obviously not getting much out of them since rates are up anyway.
The study is limited by its dependence on self-reporting of both risk factors and stroke by the subjects. In addition, there are stroke risk factors that were not taken into consideration, including whether participants had atrial fibrillation, used hormone replacement therapy, or suffered from migraines. Nevertheless, the results do offer enough evidence that women should be making more of an effort to protect themselves from having a stroke.
In fact, with the numbers so similar between men and women, stroke prevention should be a priority for both genders. This is particularly important since, even though overall stroke rates may be dropping, the incidence of stroke in younger people has increased quite a bit. A 2011 study at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, showed that stroke is on the rise in both children and young adults.2
What can you do to help lower your risk of having a stroke? Focusing on living a healthy lifestyle can get you on track to reduce the likelihood. Eating a nutritious diet and starting a regular exercise routine can go a long way toward keeping your weight in check, preventing diabetes, lowering blood pressure levels, and reducing LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels, all of which can contribute to an elevated risk of stroke.
- 1. Madsen, Tracy E.; et al. "Sex-specific stroke incidence over time in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Stroke Study." Neurology. 9 August 2017. Accessed 12 August 2017. http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2017/08/09/WNL.0000000000004325.
- 2. "Ischemic Stroke Hospitalizations Decline in Middle-aged, Elderly, Increases in Young." Science Newsline. 9 February 2011. Accessed 13 August 2017. http://www.sciencenewsline.com/news/2011020912000010.html