UConn HealthSchool of Medicine

Home > In the News > Understanding Gender And Stroke

In the News

As published in UConn Health Center Magazine, Fall 2007.

Understanding Gender And Stroke

By Carolyn Pennington

Louise McCullough wants to know why stroke is more deadly for women than men.

Louise McCullough wants to know why stroke is more deadly for women than men.

Stroke is often thought of as a man’s disease; but, in fact, it kills more women than men every year.

“Both stroke incidence and mortality have increased in women over the past three decades,” says Louise McCullough, M.D., Ph.D., a board-certified vascular neurologist and director of stroke research at the Health Center who is investigating the effects of gender on stroke.

McCullough is trying to determine why stroke is more deadly for women than men. Researchers had long assumed that estrogen plays a protective role, since women tend to experience strokes later in life when hormone levels have declined. That assumption, though, is giving way to more recent studies. “In the lab, if you take female cells and grow them in a dish and expose them to a stroke-like injury, they do better than cells from a male. This suggests it’s not just hormones that are protective, because cells grown in a dish are not exposed to hormones,” says McCullough, who received her Ph.D. in neuroscience and her M.D. from UConn’s School of Medicine.

“Stroke is a potentially treatable and preventable disease,” adds McCullough; who did her internship, residency and a fellowship at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore before returning to Connecticut to help care for her father, who had suffered a disabling stroke. “The strides made in understanding the disease over the past 10 years are enormous. I hope to make an impact at both the clinical and basic science levels to increase our understanding of the disorder and provide more treatment options for patients.”

She is working to establish a statewide network that will improve diagnosis and treatment of stroke at all the hospitals in Connecticut. Until then, she emphasizes to her patients the importance of lifestyle changes such as exercise, healthy diet and not smoking to reduce risk factors for both men and women. “If you lower your blood pressure by 30 points, you cut your risk of stroke nearly in half.”

She also urges women and men to be aware of common stroke symptoms such as weakness or numbness in the face, arms or legs, especially on one side; severe headache; dizziness or loss of balance; and trouble speaking or understanding. Unique warning signs for women are sudden hiccups, nausea, chest pain and shortness of breath.

“Too many women ignore the symptoms,” says McCullough. “Many have told me they thought their symptoms would disappear if they took a nap or rested awhile. Then, by the time they get to the emergency room, it’s often too late to prevent serious damage.”

UConn School of Medicine
263 Farmington Avenue
Farmington, CT 06030

Maps & Directions