Male and Female Smokers Equally at Risk for Stroke

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Researchers who’ve conducted the largest-ever analysis of research data targeting the effect of smoking on the risk of stroke have determined that male and female smokers are, indeed, at similar risk. Conducted by statisticians from the U.S., Australia, and the Netherlands, the study was a systematic review of 81 previous population studies (done in Asia, the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand) totaling almost four million individuals in whom 42,400 fatal and nonfatal strokes were documented. The results were as follows:

  • Five million people die annually from various causes due to smoking. Cigarettes are one of the leading causes of death and disability in the world and account for 6 percent of all deaths among women and 12 percent among men.
  • Overall, the risk of stroke in male and female smokers is much greater than in non-smokers: 67 percent greater for men and 83 percent greater for women.
  • The number of cigarettes smoked per day and the percentage of heavy smokers are generally higher in men, however, the results of the study showed that the effects of heavy smoking (more than 20 cigarettes a day) may be “substantially greater in women.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women. However, even though heart disease kills six times as many women as breast cancer, women tend to worry more about developing breast cancer.

In this situation, women smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack than men. The findings help put women on further notice about the seriousness of cardiovascular disease, in general, and of cardiovascular disease and smoking specifically.

Despite years of public health warnings about the dangers of smoking, the prevalence of smoking continues.

According to a related article, smoking, as a major cause of ill-health, is likely to continue for decades for two major reasons: 1) smoking rates in low- and middle-income countries (where the majority of the population lives) continue to rise, and 2) even in developed countries, tobacco use continues to be stubbornly prevalent particularly in minorities, in patients with psychiatric disorders, and in economically disadvantaged populations.

Access the analysis and related article.

My Viewpoint: Smoking is nothing less than a suicidal habit. I have seen it repeatedly destroy the arterial health of male and female patients for decades. Critical arteries to the brain and to the heart become inflamed, damaged, and diseased. Other arteries in the body suffer as well, narrowing and filling with obstructive plaques. Women have smaller arteries than men, and that could be a factor in what appears to be stroke-related gender vulnerability. Another factor at play could be menopause; specifically that a reduced estrogen level causes an elevation of triglycerides and a lowering of HDL cholesterol, both of which are factors for cardiovascular disease – especially in women over the age of 65.

What This Means to You: If you smoke, you increase your risk for not just heart and lung disease but for stroke as well. Your risk is similar, whether you are male or female. And if you are a heavy smoker, and a woman, your vulnerability may be greater than a man’s.

Recommendation: Smoking kills. This is a no-brainer. Stop or you shorten your life. If you can’t stop smoking, talk to your doctor and ask for advice. Here are some tips for quitting.

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