Traditional stroke risk factors such as high cholesterol may not be as accurate in predicting risk of this cardiac event in older women, according to a recent study by researchers at the NYU Langone Medical Center.
The study suggests that doctors should refocus their stroke prevention efforts for postmenopausal women on triglycerides levels.
"We've always believed that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels were the most important biomarkers for identifying stroke risk, but this study gives us strong evidence to question that approach," said lead author Dr. Jeffrey S. Berger, assistant professor of medicine and director of Cardiovascular Thrombosis at NYU School of Medicine.
According to the Mayo Clinic, triglycerides are a type of lipid found in the blood. All calories the body does not need right away turn into these lipids, which are stored in fat cells. Later, hormones will release these triglycerides for energy between eating. However, high levels of triglycerides - or eating more calories than are burned - can cause health problems, like stroke, according to this study.
In the study, researchers looked at data from the Hormones and Biomarkers Predicting Stroke Study, which included postmenopausal women over more than 15 years. Comparing 972 women who experienced an ischemic stroke with 972 who had not, researchers noted that high levels of these lipids were found in the blood samples of the women who had a stroke.
Researchers found that women whose blood was classified as in the highest quarter of baseline triglyceride levels were nearly twice as likely to have suffered a stroke as women in the lowers quarter of these lipid levels. Traditional risk factors such as LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol did not appear to be associated with stroke in this demographic, according to the study.
The Mayo Clinic reports that while cholesterol and triglycerides are both lipids in the blood, they play different roles. Triglycerides store unused calories and provide the body with energy, while cholesterol works to build cells and hormones. However, both can contribute to the hardening of the arteries or the thickening of artery walls, which can lead to stroke, heart attack and heart disease.
Women can lower their triglyceride levels by losing weight, cutting back on excess calories and avoiding foods that are sugary, refined or contain trans fats, the news outlet reports.