While only about 0.5 percent of women aged 35 to 54 had a stroke from 1988 to 1994, a federal health survey found that had increased to nearly 2 percent between 1999 and 2004.
Physicians say that the obesity epidemic is to blame for the startling rise in strokes. Women’s waists have grown by nearly two inches in the last 10 years, and women’s average body mass index rose from 27 to 29. Blood sugar levels have also increased.
The increase in strokes came despite the fact that more women are taking drugs to lower their cholesterol and blood pressure, which are both things that should lower stroke risk.
While women’s stroke risk skyrocketed, stroke risk among middle-aged men stayed the same. Researchers say the gender difference could be due to belly fat, a known risk factor for stroke.
Abdominal obesity in women rose from 47 percent to 59 percent, while the change in men was smaller. Strokes (which are sometimes referred to as “brain attacks”) are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and they occur when the blood supply to your brain becomes blocked or reduced. This deprives your brain of necessary oxygen and nutrients, causing your brain cells to begin to die within minutes.
The reason why strokes can be so devastating is that they often occur without warning, and the longer your brain goes without oxygen, the greater your risk of lasting damage. This is one area where emergency medicine excels, as there are emergency medications that can dissolve a blood clot that is blocking blood flow to your brain.
But to be effective, you typically need to get help within one hour. So if you notice any of these signs of stroke, you should get help right away:
- Sudden trouble walking (dizziness, loss of balance, etc.)
- Sudden confusion
- Sudden numbness or weakness (especially on one side of your body only)
- Sudden trouble seeing
- Sudden severe headache
How to Prevent a Stroke
Conventionally speaking, many of the same risk factors that increase your risk of heart disease also increase your risk of stroke, and these include things like:
- High blood pressure
- High triglycerides and elevated homocysteine levels
- Low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol
But while these are important factors, they are not the only ones. Very high up on the list of keys to preventing a stroke is to get a handle on your stress levels.
Earlier this month, for instance, a study in Neurology of over 20,600 people found that psychological distress will greatly increase your risk of suffering from a stroke. And, the more stressed you are, the greater your risk. The researchers actually found that for every notch lower a person scored on their well-being scale, their risk of stroke increased by 11 percent!
Not surprisingly, the relationship between psychological distress and stroke was most pronounced when the stroke was fatal.
This makes perfect sense, particularly if you had a chance to watch last week’s video with Dr. David Holt about the most common cause of heart attacks. The cause is a certain type of emotional stress, but what’s interesting is what is said about the severity of the stress; in short, it’s been found that if you go longer than nine months with a moderate or severe emotional conflict, you probably won’t survive the heart attack that follows.
And as the Neurology study shows, the same goes for stroke, in that the longer you are under severe psychological distress, the greater the likelihood your stroke will be fatal.
So while you are making efforts to get your diet on the right track, and to stay physically active, please do not overlook the crucial importance of your emotional health. Choose a method, such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), that works for you, and use it regularly, daily even, to release the past and present stresses in your life.