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Stroke Risk Is Heavy Burden

Fat men are more likely to be hit

WEDNESDAY, May 9 (HealthScout) -- Heavy isn't healthy, and science has found yet another reason why.

For the first time, researchers have shown that fat men are more likely to have strokes.

It's not clear if obesity actually causes strokes, but overweight men had more of them even if they didn't have other risk factors, said Dr. Tobias Kurth, a research fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"But it's not that all people who are obese get a stroke," Kurth said. The findings are "just one piece of a puzzle."

Researchers looked at a 12-year study of 21,000 American physicians and are releasing the results today at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia.

Four percent of the doctors, or 747, had strokes during that time period. All the subjects were between the ages of 40 and 84 at the beginning of the study.

The fattest men, with a body-mass index of at least 27.8, were almost two times as likely to have strokes as men with BMIs under 22, the study found.

BMI is a measurement of obesity that takes into account a person's weight and height. People with BMIs over 25 are considered overweight, while those topping 30 are obese. For instance, a 6- foot man who weighs 230 pounds would have a BMI of 31.

The risk of stroke rose by 6 percent with each single unit increase in BMI. In a 6-foot man, one unit equals about 7.4 pounds; it's about 6.2 pounds for a man who is 5 feet 6 inches tall.

Overweight men were more likely to have strokes even if they didn't have other risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, clogged arteries and high cholesterol levels, Kurth said.

While researchers have shown that obesity increases the risk of stroke in women, it hasn't been shown in men until now, Kurth said.

"It's more fuel to the fire for us to advise patients to get off of the couch and away from the remote control," said Dr. Sean Ruland, who runs the neurologic critical care division at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago.

So why does extra weight bring extra risk? One theory is that the blood clots more quickly in overweight people, raising the risk of a stroke caused by a clot that cuts off blood supply to the brain, Kurth said. But that doesn't explain strokes that happen when a brain blood vessel bursts, he said.

Genetics may also play a role by raising the risk of stroke for certain people, Ruland said. "We're not going to know that for sure until several years down the road, but that's a hot topic right now."

What To Do

This research doesn't prove that losing weight will reduce your stroke risk. But if you're overweight, there are plenty of other good reasons to shed a few pounds.

Curious about your body-mass index? The Thriveonline Web site offers a handy conversion calculator -- just plug in your height and weight, and the computer will do the rest. It will also tell you what your BMI says about your health.

For more information on strokes, including tips on how to recognize if one is occurring, visit the American Stroke Association. To learn about stroke recovery, check out the Hamilton-Wentworth Stroke Recovery Association.

Or, you might want to read previous HealthScout articles on strokes and obesity.

SOURCES: Interviews with Tobias Kurth, M.D, MSc, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass.; and Sean Ruland, DO, director of neurologic critical care, Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago, Ill.
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