New software discovers women at increased risk of stroke

GPs who take into account the differences between men and women in their consulting room offer a better quality of care than GPs who do not. For this reason, more and more attention is being paid to so-called gender-sensitive general practice. A good example is the study by Hine van Os and his team investigating the possibility of assessing the risk of stroke in women using software.

Recognize risk patients earlier

“If GPs recognize these women at an earlier stage, preventive actions are also possible sooner, such as lifestyle interventions and prescribing medication,” says Hine van Os on the ZonMw website. “That is very important, because you have to realize that stroke is one of the main causes of physical disability and death in the Netherlands.” Hine van Os is a medical doctor and researcher in the field of stroke, eHealth and data science. At the LUMC he specialized in research based on large routine healthcare databases in medicine. Van Os is also general manager at NeLL (National eHealth Living Lab).

Differences between men and women in cardiovascular disease

There are differences between men and women not only in stroke but in many other conditions. Heart problems in women, for example, regularly look different than in men, and it is important that general practitioners and specialists are aware of this. For example, there is a disease called ‘the woman’s heart’, for which the correct diagnosis could not always be made with existing studies. With a new measuring method, developed by researchers from the Catharina Heart and Void Center and Eindhoven University of Technology, this condition can be diagnosed in the heart of women.

Using software for inventorying risk patients

It is good that more attention is also being paid to the differences between men and women with regard to strokes, and the software that Van Os will be using can help with this. The researchers are building on the increasing knowledge about the role of sex and gender in cardiovascular disease. Gone are the days when cardiovascular diseases were considered primarily a male disease. It was already known that there are traditional risk factors for the development of a stroke, such as gender, age, diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking. Van Os: “In addition, we are now investigating which women-specific risk factors may also play a role, and if so, to what extent. Examples of women-specific factors are migraines, hormonal disorders and preeclampsia. These factors are especially important in women under the age of 50, for whom the risk of stroke is usually very low.”

Women-specific stroke risk factors

The question is whether there are combinations of women-specific factors with traditional risk factors that can increase the risk of stroke. And that is now being investigated with a big data study, using the gigantic datasets of the Hacking Stroke project. The Hacking Stroke project is a study on the development and implementation of software for early recognition of risk of cardiovascular disease and in particular stroke in general practice.

In concrete terms, this concerns an eHealth innovation that links management software to the existing general practitioner information system (HIS). With an additional grant from ZonMw, the research group will zoom in further on the relationships between women-specific risk factors and stroke. From the national database, approximately 400,000 women were included, of whom a total of 2,751 had a stroke during the duration of the study.

Psychosocial factors also play a role in stroke

The most surprising result, he thinks, is that the study not only confirms that women-specific risk factors play a role in stroke risk, but also psychosocial factors, such as depression, psychosis and socioeconomic status. “We still need to externally validate this outcome. For me, this means that professionals and researchers need to take a more holistic view. Psychosocial factors play a greater role in cardiovascular disease than we often think – we also need to include the social domain in detecting and tackling the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.”

The passionate researcher hopes that in about three years’ time citizens will have the means to estimate their own risk of a stroke. This can be done by measuring the blood pressure yourself, possibly analyzing other blood values ​​yourself and by talking to other people in similar situations. He believes it is important that people take charge of their own health and that they are supported in this by healthcare professionals. Finally, Van Os is convinced that with a personalized gender-specific approach, a world can be gained in the field of prevention and prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

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