Female smokers face the biggest risk for brain bleeds, study finds

Female smokers may be the most at risk for brain bleeds when compared to male smokers or non-smokers, a study released Thursday found.

The results, published by researchers from the American Heart Association, suggest that, while smoking increases the chance of brain bleeds in both sexes, women are disproportionately at risk.

A brain bleed otherwise known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage, results from bleeding into the area between the brain’s surface and the underlying tissue, and, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, can result in seizures, coma, and ultimately death.

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Overall, researchers found, female smokers were more likely to develop brain bleeds than non-smokers, regardless of how much they smoked. However, women who reported smoking heavily–21 to 30 cigarettes per day –were at the greatest risk. These women were more than eight times more likely to develop a hemorrhage than non-smokers.

Male smokers were similarly at risk; however, the study found that men who smoked heavily were only a little under three times more likely to have a brain bleed than non-smokers.

"Female sex has been described as an independent risk factor for subarachnoid hemorrhage,” study lead author Dr. Joni Valdemar Lindbohm, a physician in neurosurgery and public health at the University of Helsinki in Finland, said in a news release. “But we found strong evidence that the elevated risk in women is explained by vulnerability to smoking,"

The study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, analyzed the health information from 65,521 randomly selected adults between the years 1972 and 2011.

Brain bleeds account for three percent of all strokes, according to the American Heart Association. The good news, the study cited, is that the risk is significantly reduced in former smokers who had quit six months earlier, with their chances of a brain bleed being almost equivalent to that of non-smokers.

Researchers noted that it is possible for there to be factors besides smoking that can lead to an increased risk of brain bleeds, such as alcohol consumption and high cholesterol or blood pressure. However, they assert that smoking is the biggest risk factor for developing a hemorrhage.

"There is no safe level of smoking," Lindbohm said. "Naturally the best option is never to start. Quitting smoking, however, can reduce the risk for subarachnoid hemorrhage in both sexes."