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Female Smokers More Likely to Suffer Deadly Bleeding Strokes

Update Date: Aug 22, 2013 04:08 PM EDT

Previous research reveals that smoking may cause similar stroke risks for men and women.  However, a new study reveals that female smokers may be at a greater risk for a more deadly and uncommon type of stroke.

Men and women who smoke have a 60 to 80 percent higher risk of suffering any type of stroke compared to non-smokers. However, what's interesting about the latest finding is that previous studies have also found strong evidence that smoking poses a significantly higher risk of heart disease, which shares a common disease process with stroke, for women than men.

The latest study, published in the journal Stroke, compared data from more than 80 international studies published between 1966 and 2013. 

The study linked smoking to more than a 50 percent greater risk of ischemic stroke, the most common stroke that is caused by a blood clot, in both men and women. However, researchers found a 17 percent greater risk of hemorrhagic stroke, a more deadly stroke caused by a brain bleed, in women.  Furthermore, the risk for women who smoke was about 10 percent higher in Western countries.  Researchers explain that this may reflect a greater cumulative exposure to smoking in women living in Western countries compared to those living in Asian countries.

The good news is men and women who smoke can significantly reduce their risk of stroke by quitting cigarettes, according to the study.

"Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for stroke for both men and women, but fortunately, quitting smoking is a highly effective way to lower your stroke risk," lead researcher Rachel Huxley, a professor at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, said in a news release. "Tobacco control policies should be a mainstay of primary stroke prevention programs."

Huxley and her team explain that the greater risk of bleeding stroke among women who smoke might be due to hormones and how nicotine impacts blood fats. Researchers said that fats, cholesterol and triglycerides increase to a greater extent in women who smoke compared with men who smoke. This would explain why female smokers are at greater risk for coronary heart disease. 

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