Feb. 24, 2010 (San Antonio) -- Strokes are on the rise among younger people, a group not traditionally considered at high risk for the debilitating condition, researchers report.
A total of 7.3% of stroke victims were younger than age 45 in 2005, up from 4.5% in 1993, says Brett M. Kissela, MD, of the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute.
The average age of stroke patients dropped from 71 in 1993 to 68 in 2005, he says.
Even among people under 45, strokes are still a relatively uncommon event, striking 25 of every 100,000 whites and 55 of every 100 blacks in 2005, he says.
The findings were presented at the American Stroke Association’s (ASA) International Stroke Conference 2010.
So why would strokes be increasing in younger people, while decreasing in older people?
Kissela says it's probably because stroke prevention efforts aimed at controlling high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity have largely been aimed at older people. And they've been successful, he says.
Because stroke is thought of as an older person's disease, younger people fell through the cracks, Kissela says.
"If we don't reverse this trend, there will be many years of productive life lost. Not just years of work lost; it can be as simple as a young mother no longer being able to hold her baby," he tells WebMD.
So what's the answer?
First, younger people need to be aware that they too are at risk, Kissela says.
Also, younger people tend to skip an annual exam if they’re feeling OK, he says. "Everyone should be checked regularly for treatable problems."
Finally, you've heard it before, but Kissela says it's worth repeating: The best way to ward off strokes, heart attacks, and a host of other diseases is to eat right, exercise, and refrain from smoking.
For the study, the researchers examined data from five counties in the greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky region, which includes about 1.3 million people.
But the results apply to the entire U.S. population, says American Stroke Association spokesman Brain Silver, MD, a neurologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Silver tells WebMD that he and colleagues nationwide are treating "a lot more patients in their 30s and 40s."
Plus, rates of obesity and diabetes, the factors fueling the disturbing trend, are increasing throughout the country, Kissela says.