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Stroke study probes gender disparity

Stroke is Australia’s third most common cause of death, with 55,000 people likely to suffer one each year.

While the risk between the ages of 45 and 85 is one in four for men and one in five for women, the latter experience worse post-stroke disability and are more than three times as likely to be institutionalised.

Precisely why is unknown but Australian researchers are a step closer to answering the question.

Sultana Shajahan from Sydney’s George Institute for Global Health says the classic early signs of stroke, such as problems with movement and speech, occur in both sexes, yet less so in women.

At the same time, females are more likely to have more generalised symptoms, like confusion and weakness.

“We know women who experience stroke are more likely than men to initially be given a non-stroke diagnosis,” Dr Shajahan said.

“This could be because they don’t always display what could be considered the ‘classical’ symptoms … as often as men do.”

To date, there is not enough data to determine whether these differences actually result in delays or missed diagnoses.

However Dr Shajahan believes “greater awareness of sex differences in symptom presentation amongst healthcare providers involved in the initial evaluation of acute stroke would be helpful”.

Stroke occurs when there is a sudden loss of blood supply to a localised area of the brain and is the second major cause of disability globally.

Early diagnosis is vital but previous studies have shown women are more likely to experience delays, resulting in worse outcomes.

Dr Shajahan’s team analysed data on more than 36,000 people diagnosed with stroke from 21 studies conducted worldwide between 2002 and 2020.

Between 45 and 55 per cent of participants were women and they were generally older than men when presenting with stroke, with an average age of 62-79 years versus 58-70 years for men.

The George Institute findings follow University of Queensland data showing almost two thirds of acute stroke patients fail to survive more than a decade and have high risk of recurrence.

The study of 300,000 patients admitted to hospital between 2008 and 2017 also investigated how many years were lost to stroke by comparing predicted life expectancy with the length of actual survival.

Study leader and UQ epidemiologist Yang Peng says only 36.4 per cent of patients survived beyond 10 years and 26.8 per cent had another stroke.

Meanwhile, researchers at Flinders University and the University of Newcastle have found an interactive online lifestyle program trialled by survivors has had a positive effect on their wellbeing.

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