The Surprising Link Between Sexual Orientation and Stroke Risk

Human Head Anatomy Stroke Illustration

A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted, leading to a sudden loss of brain function. Strokes can be caused by a blocked artery or bleeding in the brain and can result in a range of symptoms, including difficulty speaking or walking, paralysis, and confusion.

A study suggests that higher rates of stroke are driven by non-traditional factors.

According to a small study in San Francisco, individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or non-binary may be at a higher risk for stroke at a younger age, as well as a possible increased risk for recurrent strokes, compared to those who identify as straight and cisgender.

The medical records of 26 stroke patients who identify as sexual and gender minorities were reviewed by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG) and were compared with 78 stroke patients of the same age who did not identify as sexual and gender minorities. The findings of this study were recently published in Neurology Clinical Practice.

While stroke subtypes and traditional stroke risks, such as smoking, hypertension, and diabetes, were similar for both groups, the sexual and gender minority patients were more likely to have “non-traditional stroke risks.”

These included HIV and current or previous history of syphilis and hepatitis C, conditions that can increase stroke risk as a result of inflammation and blockage of blood vessels.

“While positivity rates were higher for substance abuse, as well as HIV, hepatitis C, and syphilis for people in the sexual and minority group, they were more likely to be tested, which may account for them,” said senior author, Nicole Rosendale, MD, a neurohospitalist in the UCSF Department of Neurology and ZSFG.

Of those patients tested for HIV, 8 of the 23 (34.8%) in the sexual and gender minority group were positive, versus none of the 36 patients in the non-minority group. For hepatitis C, 4 of 14 (28.5%) patients tested in the minority group had or had had the virus, compared with 4 of 19 (21%) in the non-minority group. Among those tested for syphilis, 5 of the 19 (26.3%) had or had had syphilis in the minority group, versus none of the 25 tested patients in the non-minority group.

The minority group also had a higher rate of substance use, itself a risk factor for all three conditions, with 11 of 18 (61.1%) testing positive for substances in urine tests during their hospital admissions, compared with 19 of 56 (33.9%) in the non-minority group.

Due to the limited number of minority patients in the study, researchers were unable to link specific subgroups to risks, said Rosendale, who is also affiliated with the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

“Previous studies have shown that the prevalence of HIV and syphilis is highest in transgender women, and in gay and bisexual cisgender men. Stroke risk appears to be higher in lesbian women than in straight women, with one study showing that they had higher rates of self-reported stroke,” Rosendale said. “There may be many reasons for this – higher rates of smoking, higher prevalence of obesity, effects of discrimination on vascular health, and limited access to health care.”

While the average age of stroke patients at the study hospital was 69, the average age of the sexual and gender minorities group was 55.

The researchers also discovered that the minority group was more likely to experience a recurrent stroke, despite similar follow-up rates as the non-minority group. “Future research will need to explore the drivers of recurrent stroke, including the role of minority stress,” said Rosendale. “Stigma, prejudice, and discrimination create an inherently stressful environment that translates into health issues.”

Reference: “Exploring Stroke Risk Factors and Outcomes in Sexual and Gender Minority People” by Michael Anthony Diaz and Nicole Rosendale, 18 January 2023, Neurology Clinical Practice.
DOI: 10.1212/CPJ.0000000000200106

3 Comments on "The Surprising Link Between Sexual Orientation and Stroke Risk"

  1. stephen schaffer | February 14, 2023 at 7:40 am | Reply

    Yet another “research” study of a tiny sample of subjects, all of whom seem to have a host of diseases, presented in scitechdaily as somehow important. which it is not. spare your readership, please.

  2. Steve Nordquist | February 14, 2023 at 7:48 pm | Reply

    Was ot too bougie to title it ‘Towards Health Justice for Intersex’? 26 stroke patients hurt 9 years advance against their years still calls for some interesting nuance in caring, represent!

  3. David Harrington | February 15, 2023 at 12:59 pm | Reply

    Weird study. Not great method. Too many variables

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