Middle-aged women are now more than twice as likely to have a stroke as men of the same age, a study reveals. Scientists suspect stress and weight gain are the main reasons why the number of women being struck down by these brain attacks suddenly rockets after the age of 45.
Until then a woman is no more at risk than a man. But rates of high blood pressure - the biggest cause of strokes - start to rise dramatically in the decade leading to a woman's 45th birthday, the study found. And in the decade after that women are 2.4 times more likely than men to have a stroke.
Caused by a clot or bleeding in the brain, strokes are the biggest cause of severe disability in the UK and lead to 67,000 deaths a year. They are the third most common cause of death in England and Wales after heart disease and cancer.
In the study, reported in the journal Neurology, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles monitored 17,000 people over six years. They found the incidence of stroke rising faster among women than men, which is backed by a recent report from Sweden.
Why there should be such a difference in stroke rate between the genders in mid-life is unclear, but clues have been found. Research at Osaka City University Medical School in Japan suggests stress is far more dangerous for women, in terms of triggering strokes, than it is for men. In California, they found men had higher cholesterol at 45 but stayed the same over the next two decades, while women overtook them. Also, burgeoning waistlines were found to increase the risk of stroke in women by 40 per cent.
"It has been suggested that women nearing menopause are particularly susceptible to steep increases in waist circumference," says the report, which adds that the obesity epidemic will "exert a higher cardiovascular toll on middle-aged women".
Joe Korner, of the Stroke Association, said: "Our obesity problem is not as big as in the US, but it is growing. Forty per cent of the 150,000 strokes in the UK every year would be prevented if we could get people to control their blood pressure."
Keep your cool in the office
Life coach Fiona Harrold's advice on how best to beat stress at work:
1. Set Your Own Agenda Think about what is important to you in your job. Now, what are you doing to make sure those ambitions are realised?
2. Feel You Are Developing Look for projects that will give you a sense of achievement.
3. Tackle Isolation Make sure you are engaging with others each day.
4. Catch Yourself Moaning If you're tempted down the "ain't it awful" road, give yourself a mental shake and think "CEO of my own destiny".
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