Young women significantly more likely to suffer stroke than men, doctors warn

DENVER — Women between the ages of 18 to 45 are at a greater risk of having an ischemic stroke than men, according to a new review looking at sex differences in stroke rate.

Ischemic strokes occur when blood vessels are blocked, cutting off essential nutrients and oxygen to the brain. Within minutes, brain cells can begin to die off. The most common reason is because of a blood clot or fatty buildup known as plaque.

“Our finding suggests that strokes in young adults may be happening for different reasons than strokes in older adults. This emphasizes the importance of doing more studies of stroke in younger age groups so that we can better understand what puts young women at a higher risk of stroke,” says study co-author Dr. Sharon N. Poisson, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Colorado, Denver, in an American Heart Association release. “Better understanding which young adults are at risk for stroke can help us to do a better job of preventing and treating strokes in young people.”

The researchers reviewed multiple studies on stroke sex differences in young adults from January 2008 to July 2021. The studies had data on any stroke type, including ischemic strokes, hemorrhagic strokes, transient ischemic attack or mini-strokes, and cryptogenic strokes. That said, about 87% of the research was based on ischemic stroke.

A total of 16 studies met the inclusion criteria where 69,739 young adults — 33,775 women and 36,018 men — from more than half a dozen countries had a stroke.

Among adults younger than 35 years old, about 44% more women experienced ischemic strokes than men. The gap in stroke prevalence decreased among adults between 35 to 45. The reason behind the difference in stroke incidences is still unknown and under investigation. Potential factors could range from pregnancy, postpartum, or hormonal contraceptives.

The research is published in Stroke, the medical journal for the American Stroke Association. “Stroke affects more women each year than men. We want all stroke professionals to know about the latest research on the recognition, prevention and treatment of strokes among women,” notes Dr. Ralph L. Sacco, editor-in-chief of the journal.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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