Age and Stroke
How common is stroke in older women?
Stroke is a major health issue for postmenopausal women. Over half of all stroke patients older than 65 are women, and women account for 61% of all stroke deaths.1 Just like heart disease, your risk of having a stroke increases steadily as you grow older. For adults over 55 years of age, the lifetime risk of stroke is greater than 1 in 6. Women have a higher risk than men, perhaps because on average women live longer than men. About 2% of women aged 40 to 59 suffer a stroke; this goes up to 6% of women aged 60 to 79 and 12% of women older than 80 years.2
Why does age affect my risk of stroke?
Stroke risk increases with age for many reasons. To start, the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries is a lifelong process. As arteries become gradually more blocked over time, the chances of a blockage being large enough to cause problems increase.3 Nearly all of the body's energy-transforming (metabolic) processes are affected in some way by aging, and this often means that risk factors that increase stroke risk also become more common and more severe the older you get. After menopause, hormonal changes mean that women lose some of the protective effects that the female hormone estrogen has against risk factors for stroke and cardiovascular disease. As women age, they are more likely to develop stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and to become overweight. These factors can combine to greatly increase a woman's stroke risk.4, 5
Will age affect my chances of surviving a stroke?
Yes—the likelihood of dying if you have a stroke increases gradually as you age. Nearly 90% of stroke deaths occur in people aged 65 and older—the average age at death from stroke is 80 years.
Stroke leads to death more often in older people because the disorders that lead to stroke progress over time, causing more damage or becoming more severe. In addition, older people are likely to have other medical conditions that may reduce their body's ability to cope with the effects of a stroke.
Because women live longer than men and are usually older at the time of a stroke, more women than men die of stroke each year. Women accounted for 61% of US stroke deaths in 2004, even though they accounted for less than 50% of all strokes.
Despite the aging of the population as a whole, stroke death rates have actually been decreasing. Researchers believe this is due to better detection and treatment for risk factors such as high blood pressure.2
Should my risk of stroke be treated differently because of my age?
No. It is just as important for elderly people to reduce their risk factors, such as smoking, excess weight, and high blood pressure, as it is for younger people.
Treating high blood pressure with medication is particularly beneficial for patients aged 60 to 80 years. With these medications, older patients can reduce their blood pressure just as much as younger patients.6
Managing cholesterol may be beneficial for elderly men and women too. In one study of people with high cholesterol, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs cut the rate of stroke by 40% in those 65 years and older.7 Statins reduce the chances of having a first stroke by about 30% in women who have high cholesterol. Stroke survivors who take statins have a 16% lower chance of having another stroke within 5 years and are 43% less likely to die of a stroke.8