- Ecuadorian researchers investigate more than 100,000 cases of stroke
- They found that those living below 2,500 meters were at greater risk from the condition.
- But people with higher altitude were less likely to be hospitalized or die from a stroke
One study suggests that living on top of a mountain can save you from suffering or dying from a stroke.
Researchers in Ecuador looked at more than 100,000 stroke hospitalizations and deaths in the country.
Stroke patients were divided into two groups, based solely on where they lived and altitude above sea level.
The results showed that people living below 2,500 meters – which includes the entire UK – were more likely to have a stroke. And they were also more likely to be hospitalized or die from the condition, which is one of the most common causes of death.
Academics at Ecuador’s Universidad de las Americas wondered why this might be so.
But he hypothesized that people living at higher altitudes may have developed additional blood vessels in their brains to counter the lack of oxygen at high altitudes.
When someone has a stroke, part of their brain is starved of this important chemical, which can lead to cell death.
About 32,000 strokes occur each year in the UK, while the US has over 795,000 strokes annually.
Scientists found that Ecuadorians who lived more than 2,500 meters above sea level (yellow and red) were less likely to have a stroke than those who lived below this altitude (gray and green).
Scientists found that older men were more likely to have a stroke than younger men, regardless of the height they lived
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, looked at hospitalizations and deaths in Ecuador between 2000 and 2017.
The researchers said that men who lived 2,500 meters above sea level were 35 percent less likely to die from a stroke. There was a similar, but not as big difference, for women.
The data showed that they were also less likely to be hospitalized.
And it was found that men living at higher altitudes developed a stroke four years later than residents of lower altitudes.
What are the main risk factors for stroke?
There are several risk factors that increase a person’s risk of suffering a stroke. These are:
- high blood pressure
- sedentary lifestyle
- irregular heartbeat
- family history of stroke
Ecuadorian scientists have also suggested that people who live at higher altitudes are less likely to have a stroke.
Their research builds on previous papers that also suggested a link between height and stroke risk.
However, the results were not statistically significant, suggesting that other factors may be involved for the findings.
The availability of health facilities was also analyzed.
It was found that people living at higher altitudes had more hospital beds available (173 per 100,000 people) than those at lower levels (128 per 100,000 people).
About 30 percent of the country’s 17 million people live in the Andes, which go more than 6,000 meters above sea level.
Lead author Professor Esteban Ortiz-Prado said: ‘The main motivation of our work was to raise awareness of a problem that has been little explored.
‘More than 160 million people live above 2,500 m and little is known about epidemiological differences in terms of stroke at altitude.
‘We wanted to contribute to the knowledge in this population that is often thought to be very similar to a population living at sea level, and in physiological terms we are very different.’
The highest point in Britain is Ben Nevis, which is about 1,300 meters above sea level.
Stroke usually occurs when a clot forms inside one of the brain’s major vessels, causing the surrounding tissue to become oxygen-starved and die.
They can also be triggered by bleeding on the brain.
Several factors, including smoking, obesity and high blood pressure, can increase the risk of suffering from this condition.
Symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness in the face, trouble speaking or confusion, and severe headache for no known reason.
This study builds on previous research that linked living at a higher altitude to a lower chance of having a stroke.