smoking womenIt is common knowledge that smoking increases several health risks. In particular, smoking can increase risk for stroke. However, a new study says that women who smoke are more vulnerable to a particular type of stroke than men who smoke.

Strokes characterized by bleeding originating in the lining of the brain are called subarachnoid hemorrhages. It turns out that women who smoke [more than a pack a day] are as much as 8 times more likely to suffer these strokes than nonsmoking women and 3 times more likely to suffer the condition than men who smoke a similar amount.

However, while this evidence seems clear to researchers, they adamantly maintain that they are not sure why this disparity exists. While the study was able to describe this association, the only data they collected was on the association itself and not on reasons it may occur.

“Female sex has been described as an independent risk factor for subarachnoid hemorrhage, but we found strong evidence that the elevated risk in women is explained by vulnerability to smoking,” explains lead study author Joni Valdemar Lindbohm, M.D. The University of Helsinki physician in neurosurgery and public health goes on to say, “Our results suggest that age, sex and lifestyle risk factors play a critical role in predicting which patients are at risk for subarachnoid hemorrhage and emphasize the importance of effective smoking cessation strategies.”

While the study is preliminary—and therefore potentially asks more questions than it answers, as all good studies should at first—the researchers also say this cloud has a silver lining. Researcher indicate that subarachnoid hemorrhage risk significantly decreases in women [and men] who stop smoking, particularly after six months of cessation.

It may also be good news, somewhat, that subarachnoid hemorrhages account for only about 3 percent of all strokes. That means that although stroke risk is higher among smokers, this type of stroke remains low on the spectrum. Furthermore, it implies that quitting smoking can greatly reduce this risk for anyone.

Of course, Lindbohm adds, “There is no safe level of smoking. Naturally the best option is never to start. Quitting smoking, however, can reduce the risk for subarachnoid hemorrhage in both sexes.”

The neurosurgery and public health specialist also contributes, “The message for policymakers is that by implementing effective strategies against smoking, they can considerably reduce the burden of subarachnoid hemorrhage.