More women than men are having strokes in middle, though researchers aren’t sure why, according to a new study published in the June 20 issue of Neurology.

Researchers say heart disease and increased waist size may be contributing to the mid-life stroke surge, but does not explain the disparity between men and women.

“While further study is needed, this mid-life stroke surge among women suggests prompt and close attention may need to be paid to the cardiovascular health of women in their mid-30s to mid-50s with a goal of mitigating this burden,” said study author Amytis Towfighi, MD, with the Stroke Center and Department of Neurology at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The study analyzed data from 17,000 people, 606 of whom had a stroke, over the age of 18, who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

According to the study, women age 45 to 54 were more than twice as likely to have a stroke as men in the same age group. Towfighi, who is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said women in the same age group also experienced higher spikes in blood pressure and cholesterol levels compared to similarly aged men.

“With each decade, men’s blood pressure increased by an average of four to five points, whereas women’s blood pressure increased by eight to 10 points,” she said. “Similarly, men had significantly higher total cholesterol levels than women at age 35 to 44, but … women’s total cholesterol increased by 10 to 12 points with each decade, so that by age 55 to 64, women had significantly higher total cholesterol than men.”

The study also found that the risk of stroke for men increased with age and that men, aged 55 to 64, were three times more likely than men aged 45 to 54 to have had a stroke.

Preventing a Stroke

Although the risk for a stroke increases with age for both sexes, there are steps that can be taken to prevent a stroke.

Medical experts recommend taking the following steps:

— Get your blood pressure checked; learn what your body mass index is; and check your cholesterol and glucose levels every two to five years.

— Exercise, manage your stress, limit your alcohol consumption, don’t smoke, and stay away from foods with saturated fats.

— Take a vitamin B complex, like B6, B12, and folic acid, which are essential in helping to reduce the levels of homocysteines in the body.