Triglyceride (blood fats) levels may be an important risk factor in predicting the most common type of stroke in older women. The blood fats are more important than cholesterol in predicting the risk, according to researchers.
Strokes involve the sudden loss of blood flow to an area of the brain. Ischemic strokes, the type assessed in this study, account for more than eight in ten strokes over all and occur when blood clots obstruct blood vessels to the brain. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in those over 65.
Abnormal levels of triglycerides and other so-called lipid biomarkers have long been associated with increased risk for heart disease and atherosclerosis (plaque buildup inside arteries).
The study's senior author, Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., said, "until this study, researchers had not examined how these lipid biomarkers are independently related to stroke risk in a single group of people."
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University collaborated with NYU School of Medicine for the study.
Dr. Smoller is head of the division of epidemiology, professor of epidemiology and population health, and the Dorothy and William Manealoff Foundation and Molly Rosen Chair in Social Medicine at Einstein.
The Einstein researchers analyzed data from the Hormones and Biomarkers Predicting Stroke (HaBPS) study, which consists of women enrolled in the Wome's Health Initiative (WHI), the landmark National Institutes of Health study that has monitored the health of more than 90,000 postmenopausal women nationwide over a period of 15 years.
HaBPS is comprised of the first 972 women who experienced an ischemic stroke while participating in the WHI. These women were matched with a control group of 972 participants who had not had strokes.
Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller and her colleagues found that women in the highest quarter of baseline triglyceride levels were nearly twice as likely to have suffered an ischemic stroke as women in the lowest quarter of triglyceride values.
Levels of total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol were not associated with stroke risk.
"The bottom line is that postmenopausal women and their physicians need to pay attention to triglyceride levels," Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller said.
"We already know that women with elevated levels of triglycerides face a greater risk for heart disease and heart attacks than men do. This study has underlined the importance of abnormal triglyceride levels by establishing them as an independent risk factor for stroke," he added.
Elevated triglyceride levels can be triggered by genetic factors or behavioral habits but can be successfully treated with medication and dietary and lifestyle changes, Dr. Smoller noted.
The study appeared online in Stroke.