Why are America's teens having more strokes?

Stroke rates in the elderly are declining, but they're on the rise among young people. Is unhealthy eating to blame?

A report finds that men between the ages of 15 and 34 had a dramatic 51 percent increase in strokes over a decade.
(Image credit: Corbis)

A group of researchers at the International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles last week warned of an alarming trend: While Americans older than 45 are having fewer strokes than they used to, the younger population — particularly 35 and younger — have seen stroke rates climb dramatically. How bad is the problem, and why are so many young people having strokes? Here's an instant guide:

What did the study find?

Strokes are increasingly a health threat for young people — even children. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used hospital records from stroke cases to compare the rates from 1994 and 1995 to those in 2006 and 2007. Stroke-related hospitalizations fell 25 percent among men 45 and older, and 29 percent among women in that age range. But for women between 15 and 34, the stroke rate rose by 17 percent. And among younger men, 51 percent more strokes were reported. There were also significant increases in the rates for young children.

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Why are stroke rates rising among young people?

The study's authors "urged caution in interpreting the results," says Tara Pope in The New York Times. Their research only highlights the trend, but does not explain it. Still, experts theorize that the uptick could be tied to the rate of obesity, which has skyrocketed in recent decades. "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 neurologist Lee Schwamm of Massachusetts General Hospital, as quoted by Web MD.

Is obesity the only possible cause?

Hardly. Better record-keeping by hospitals could be responsible for the fluctuation in reported cases. Or changes in the understanding of strokes may have led some episodes to be newly classified that way. And use of illegal drugs such as cocaine may have contributed, suggests Dr. Brett Kissela, as cited in Businessweek.

Sources: Web MD, NY Times, Yahoo!, The Med Guru, Businessweek

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