By Dr. Maria Simbra, KDKA Health Editor

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — You may think you’re cutting your risk of stroke and heart attack by switching to diet soda, but you may not be eliminating your risk completely.

Some preliminary data suggests otherwise.

You would think drinking diet soda would lower your risk, but even the low calorie version is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

It may be related to people filling the calorie void some other way.

“The theory is that people who have diet soda are still craving sweets,” explains Dr. Donald Kushner of St. Clair Hospital’s Wise-About-Weight. “It’s a matter of them substituting one type of sweet for another.”

Based on a two-decade study of more than 2,500 people in northern Manhattan, the risk is 61 percent higher for daily consumers compared to people who don’t drink soda pop at all.

But before you drop the diet and grab the regular, keep the bigger picture in mind.

“Some patients, if they have an increased risk of heart disease or stroke because of their weight, that has to be the priority,” says Dr. Kushner.

As a step to a healthier eating plan, diet sodas can have their place.

“So I would think if you go from regular soda, to diet soda, that’s a step in the right direction, but you shouldn’t stop there. The next step would be to go to something better, like water.”

The study is not yet published, but it’s being presented at a national stroke conference this week.