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Sep 05, 2014

Less Educated Smokers Have Greatest Stroke Risk

Traditional risk factors for stroke are especially dangerous in poorly educated adults, finds study.

There’s no question that smoking increases risk for heart disease, but it’s less educated smokers that are at greatest risk for stroke, according to a recent study.

Published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Stroke, this study analyzed the combined impact of smoking, high blood pressure and stroke risk among Danish adults with varying educational backgrounds. Education is an important marker of socioeconomic status and individuals with lower levels of schooling are considered a vulnerable population, often having worse health outcomes than individuals with higher education.

To further investigate the social inequality related to stroke risk, researchers collected background information from more than 68,500 adults and tracked study participants’ health for 14 years. Most participants had a high school degree or less, and only 20% of participants had some form of college education. Researchers observed nearly 4,400 strokes during the follow-up period, most of which were ischemic strokes that occur when a blood clot blocks the blood supply to the brain.

After analysis, researchers found that smoking and high blood pressure were most common among those with low education. And unfortunately, the combined effect of smoking and high blood pressure with low education increased stroke risk more than any risk factor, alone. In other words, well-established cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking and high blood pressure are even more dangerous in a poorly educated, vulnerable population.

Based on their findings, authors encourage smoking cessation programming and improved blood pressure control among individuals with low levels of education. Although smoking and high blood pressure increase stroke risk in all individuals, these risk factors are especially dangerous for adults with low levels of schooling. Focusing prevention efforts in this high–risk population could not only help adults prevent a life-threatening stroke but reduce social inequality related to stroke risk.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are the different types of stroke?
  • Stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is reduced or blocked. There are three different types of stroke, including ischemic, hemorrhagic, and TIA (transient ischemic attack). Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke and occurs when a clot obstructs blood flow to the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures, often caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure. TIA is often called a “mini stroke,” and occurs when a blood clot temporarily blocks the flow of blood to the brain.
  • How can I help prevent stroke?

  • There are many things adults can do to help prevent a stroke. First, maintain a healthy blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, visit your physician to properly treat this condition. Maintaining a healthy diet, weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake, and quitting smoking (if you are a smoker) can also help significantly lower risk for stroke.

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Patient Resource

Stop Smoking

Kicking the habit is one of the best ways to improve overall health. Learn more »