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Stroke risk may differ based on gender

February 28, 2014

Heart disease may be a prevalent health issue for both men and women, but their risk of having strokes may differ based on their sex. Several factors affect this conclusion, including differences in the way the genders' bodies age as they get older and hormones that are released by both men and women during certain life stages. 

Women with diabetes may have higher risk
A new study published in Diabetologia found that women with type 2 diabetes have a higher stroke risk than both women who do not and men who do have the disease. Scientists analyzed a group of about 30,000 participants, both men and women, and examined which of them had strokes within a seven-year period. According to their results, women with type 2 diabetes were 19 to 42 percent more likely to have a stroke, while researchers could distinguish no discernable connection between men with diabetes and stroke risk. They concluded that women with diabetes, especially those over the age of 55, had a heightened risk, but they could not pinpoint the reason why.

Hypotheses within the study included several sex-related factors, such as the facts that women with diabetes typically have higher blood pressure, and that men are more likely to be given blood thinners - such as aspirin - that may lower their risk. One medical professional who was not a part of the study, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, told Health Day News that hormones are an important consideration to keep in mind for women.

"As women go through menopause, the loss of protective estrogen allows for the risk factors of cardiovascular disease - such as diabetes - to wreak havoc on the arteries," Steinbaum said in a release. Steinbaum is currently the director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

Exercise can reduce stroke risk in both men and women
Although women with diabetes may have a higher risk of stroke, the American Heart Association reported that both men and women can lower their chances by engaging in moderate exercise. One study, published in the journal Stroke, found that older men who walked eight to 14 hours per week were about 33 percent less likely to have a stroke than those who didn't walk at all. A separate research study was presented at the American Stroke Association's 2014 International Stroke Conference, and found that postmenopausal women who were taking hormones and participating in regular exercise also had a reduced stroke risk, according to a press release from the AHA.