High cholesterol elevates women's risk of stroke death

trokes caused by clots or narrowing of vessels that carry blood to the brain. Most of the remaining deaths involved strokes caused by bleeding in the brain.

For the entire study population, cholesterol levels averaged about 225 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Researchers divided the population into five groups according to total cholesterol levels. Average total cholesterol levels for the five groups ranged from a low of about 162 mg/dL to a high of 290 mg/dL. The entire population also was analyzed by age, grouping 14,305 women who were younger than 55 at enrollment and 10,038 who were 55 and older. The average age of the under 55 group was 44.3-years-old and the average age of the 55 and older group was 62.7-years-old.

Cholesterol proved to be a significant risk factor for stroke death in women younger than 55 at enrollment. The risk for ischemic (clot-related) stroke death increased by 23 percent across the entire spectrum of cholesterol levels, revealing a continuous association between rising cholesterol levels and increased stroke death risk. For women younger than age 55 at enrollment, the average age of stroke death was 63.

Cholesterol did not predict hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke mortality in younger women. Additionally, cholesterol did not have a significant association with stroke death in older women.

The analysis also showed that African-American women faced a significantly greater risk for stroke death compared to white women. The risk for African-American women was 76 percent greater in the younger age group and 48 percent greater in the older age group. The risk was more than double among younger African-American women with the highest cholesterol levels compared to those with the lowest cholesterol levels. The difference persisted after accounting for other factors including blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and obesity.

High cholesterol contributes to stroke risk through several mechanisms

Contact: Bridgette Mc Neill
American Heart Association

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