Obesity Linked to Risk of Stroke
A new study has found a link between an increase in obesity among middle-aged women and higher stroke rates for those women.
Presented in February at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2008, the study analyzed data from two national health and nutrition surveys: one conducted from 1988-1994, and the second from 1999-2004. Among women ages 35 to 54, the stroke rate increased from 0.63 percent in the 1989-1994 survey to 1.79 percent in the 1999-2004 survey.
Researchers then examined the data from the two surveys to see if there was an increase in any common stroke risk factors.
“We did not find significant differences in presence of conventional cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL [bad cholesterol], smoking, heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, when we compared the two groups,” says Amytis Towfighi, M.D., a University of Southern California researchers who led the study.
Higher BMI=Higher Stroke Risk
What researchers found was that the women in the 1999-2004 study were more obese than the women in the 1989-1994 study. The average body mass index (BMI) –- a measure of body fat based on height and weight -- for middle-aged women increased from 27.11 in the first survey to 28.67 in the second survey. A person with a BMI of 25 to 30 is considered overweight, while a person with a BMI higher than 30 is considered obese.
“Abdominal obesity is a known predictor of stroke in women and may be a key factor in the midlife stroke surge in women,” Towfighi says. “This study highlights the need to intensify efforts in curbing the obesity epidemic in the United States.”
Nina Solenski, M.D., an associate professor of neurology at the University of Virginia Health System who works in UVA’s Stroke Center, isn’t surprised by the study’s findings.
“Obesity in the United States has been recognized to be a serious health problem in people of all ages,” she says. “The finding reported at the ISC that obesity is linked to stroke increases among middle-aged women is consistent with this concept.”
Lifestyle changes key
Knowing and addressing your risk factors for stroke is key to reducing your chances of having a stroke, Solenski says. Steps you can take include reducing high blood pressure, quitting smoking, changing your diet if it’s high in salt and fat and making regular appointments to see your primary care doctor.
“High blood pressure is known as the ‘silent killer,’ making it extremely important to detect early such as in the middle-aged years,” she says. “Routine check-ups to diagnosis other important risk factors such as diabetes or heart disease is essential. Although these are the same risk factors for men, we know that women with stroke are more likely to die from stroke than men, making early detection and treatment imperative.”
Solenski also recommends that you learn the warning signs of a stroke.