(RxWiki News) Your education doesn't just put letters behind your name — if you have memory problems, your level of education could reveal important information about your health.
In a new study, highly educated people who had memory problems had a higher risk for stroke.
Patients who know they have a raised risk for stroke can take steps to reduce that risk, says Harvard Medical School.
"People with high level of education who complain about changes in their memory should be a primary target for further risk factor screening and prevention of stroke," the study authors, led by Ayesha Sajjad, MD, of the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, wrote.
And patients can reduce their risk of stroke, Harvard Medical School says. Among Harvard's suggestions for reducing stroke risk are losing weight, lowering blood pressure, exercising and quitting smoking.
Dr. Sajjad and team used data from 9,152 people who were part of the Rotterdam Study from 1990 to 1993 or from 2000 to 2001. The patients in that study answered a survey about their memory. They were 55 years old or older.
These researchers noted how many of the people in the study had a stroke by 2012. A stroke happens when a blood clot blocks a vessel that carries oxygen to the brain or the vessel bursts. Past research has tied memory problems to a raised stroke risk.
About 17 percent of people in the study complained of memory problems. These patients had a 20 percent higher risk of having a stroke than those who did not complain of memory problems.
Dr. Sajjad and colleagues categorized the study subjects by their level of education. Low education was primary education only. Medium education was primary plus some higher education. The higher education group included people with vocational or college education.
Memory complaints were tied to stroke only in the group of people with the most education. In the most educated group of patients with memory complaints, the risk of stroke was 39 percent higher than in the group with the least education.
Blood vessel damage in the brain may cause memory complaints before changes in memory tests are seen, Dr. Sajjad and team said. They also said that people with higher education may be able to do better on tests despite some blood vessel damage in their brains.
"Memory complaints in these highly educated persons might therefore be a better marker than cognitive testing to assess [brain blood vessel] injury," Dr. Sajjad and team wrote.
This study was published online Dec. 11 in Stroke.
The research was funded by the Erasmus Medical Center and Erasmus University of Rotterdam, as well as several organizations from the Netherlands. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.