When it comes to stroke prevalence, it appears that the gender gap is widening. According to a new report from a researcher at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC), women between the ages of 35 and 64 are almost three times more likely to have a stroke compared to men in the same age group.

The findings will be presented at 5:40 p.m. CT, Feb. 25, 2010 at the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference in San Antonio, Texas. (Abstract #P435)

"Although midlife women's blood pressure and lipid profiles are better than men's, they have significantly higher rates of abdominal obesity, which may be driving this trend," said Amytis Towfighi, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine, and the principal investigator of the study.

The investigators first reported on the evolving gender difference in rates of midlife stroke three years ago. An analysis of stroke prevalence in the United States from 1999 to 2004 found that women ages 45-54 were twice as likely as men to report having had a stroke.

In the current study, the researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2005-2006 (NHANES), a cross-sectional sample of 10,348 adults in the U.S. The data included 2,198 men and women aged 35-64.

The investigators found that women in the age group were almost three times more likely than men of the same age to report having had a stroke (2.9 percent vs. 1.07 percent).

A comparison of vascular risk factors showed that women had better than average blood pressure, homocysteine and triglyceride levels than men, but women were more likely to have abdominal obesity (61.9 percent vs. 50 percent). Abdominal obesity is a known predictor of stroke in women and may be a key factor in the midlife stroke surge in women, Towfighi said.

Independent stroke risk factors for women also included: elevated homocysteine (amino acid in the blood) levels, history of heart attack and diabetes mellitus.

"Further investigation is needed to understand this apparently evolving sex disparity in midlife stroke prevalence," Towfighi said. "Better management of stroke risk factors such as coronary artery disease, diabetes and abdominal obesity may help mitigate this worsening trend in women's health."

Source: University of Southern California

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