More young Americans are suffering strokes, according to a new study from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. In clinical observations at his hospital, Dr. Brett Kissela noted increasingly younger patients suffering from strokes, and initiated the research to confirm his suspicions that a broader trend was unfolding. Here, a concise guide:
How was the study conducted?
The research, which followed 1.3 million people in the United States, looked back at stroke rates in patients between the ages of 20 and 54 from two time periods: 1993 to 1994, and 1999 to 2005. The results are published in the journal Neurology.
What did Kissela and his colleagues find?
In 1993, the average stroke victim suffered his first attack at age 71. In 2005, that number fell to 69. More disturbingly, the stroke rate of people under age 55 increased significantly from 13 percent of all stroke victims studied in 1993 to 19 percent in 2005. In other words, as of 2005, people under age 55 accounted for one in five stroke victims. That rise comes despite an overall drop in the number of people suffering strokes and was consistent across different ethnic groups, says BBC News.
Why are more young people having strokes?
Better MRI imaging to detect strokes early could be a factor, "but I think it's a minor component," says Dr. Kissela. More likely, the rise "has to do with people having these risk factors like obesity and diabetes at younger ages." We generally think of people who've lived with those risk factors for many years as most susceptible to strokes, adds Kissela, so if the risk factors manifest earlier, it makes sense that the stroke would happen at a younger age as well.
Why are the findings significant?
"Stroke is usually considered a disease of older people, but this study reminds us that young people are also affected," Dr. David Werring, a neurologist from University College London who wasn't involved in the study, tells BCC News. Although young people will likely recover more successfully from a stroke because their brains are more modifiable, there's still potential for permanent brain damage. "A 40-year-old like myself," says Dr. Kissela, "may be forced to live in a care environment like a nursing home, removed from the work force and not able to participate in family and personal activities."