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Stroke Rates Are Rising for Young Americans

But Study Also Shows Strokes Are Decreasing Among Those Age 45 and Older
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 9, 2011 (Los Angeles) -- Stroke rates are rising sharply among children and younger adults while dropping in those aged 45 and older, suggests a nationwide snapshot of stroke hospitalizations.

Doctors who heard the new figures at an American Stroke Association meeting here say they point to the need to turn the tide on the epidemic of obesity and diabetes among Americans, particularly younger ones.

"If we don't control traditional risk factors -- obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes -- we're going to have a wave of cardiovascular disease in 10, 15, 20 years," says Lee Schwamm, MD, vice chairman of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

For the study, CDC researchers used records from hospitals in 41 states to compare hospitalizations for ischemic stroke in the mid-1990s with those in the mid-2000s.

Stroke Rates in Men vs. Women

The most common type of stroke, ischemic stroke, occurs when a clot blocks blood flow in the brain.

Strokes increased the most in men aged 15 to 34, says CDC researcher Mary George, MD.

From 1994-1995 to 2006-2007, strokes rose:

  • 51% among males aged 15 to 34, from 9.8 to 14.8 per 10,000 hospitalizations.
  • 17% in females aged 15 to 34, from 3.6 to 4.2 per 10,000 hospitalizations.
  • 47% in males aged 35 to 44, from 36 to 52.9 per 10,000 hospitalizations.
  • 36% in females aged 35 to 44, from 21.9 to 30 per 10,000 hospitalizations.

Among children aged 5 to 14, stroke rates increased 31% among boys and 36% among girls. Still, strokes only accounted for five of every 10,000 hospitalizations in the boys and four per 10,000 in the girls in this age group.

The opposite pattern was seen among older people. In people aged 45 to 64, strokes declined 12% and 13% in men and women, respectively. In the 65 and older set, strokes dropped 25% and 28% among men and women, respectively.

Despite the decrease, strokes still take their biggest toll among older people, George says. In 2006-2007, they accounted for 303 of every 10,000 hospitalizations in men 65 and over and 274 per 10,000 hospitalizations in similarly aged women, she says.

Greater Stroke Awareness

Schwamm tells WebMD that the drop in stroke rates among older people is probably due to increased awareness and better prevention and treatment of traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure.

The increase in the young is most likely a reflection of better detection with advanced MRI scans, Schwamm says. While obese children are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease as adults, that wouldn't translate into higher stroke rates until years down the road, he says.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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