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Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
Cardiovascular Health Channel
Reported October 11, 2012

Younger People at Risk for Stroke

By Ivanhoe Health Correspondent, Kelly Billon

(Ivanhoe Newswire) – Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and while many might associate the word with old age, a new study shows the average age of stroke patients is falling and more young people are at risk.

Researchers evaluated three separate periods from 1993 to 1994 and again from 1999 to 2005 and found that not only are patients experiencing strokes younger, but also the distribution is not consistent across ethnic groups.

"This paper was designed on sort of a clinical observation that I had while working in the hospital. I generally see older folks having strokes, then I went through a period of time I felt as if I was only admitting 50 year-olds," study author Brett Kissela, MD, MS, with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio, told Ivanhoe. "I thought, ‘What is happening? Are people having strokes at a younger age?’"

The average age of stroke patients dropped from 71 years in 1993 to 69 years in 2005. African Americans have a higher rate of stroke than Caucasians which is thought to be related to different risk factors. Dr. Kissela explained that African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes, while other factors like access to healthcare and treatment effectiveness need to be explored.

"We are seeing that the rate of stroke in Whites is going down over time, which is great news. But unfortunately the rate of stroke in African Americans is not," Dr. Kissela said.

Aside from an increase in preexisting conditions conducive to stroke, stroke statistics among younger patients may be on the rise due to better diagnostics and the increase use of MRI imaging. In 2005, patients 55 and younger accounted for 19 percent of strokes reported in the study.

"MRIs are higher resolution pictures: they give a lot more information. There are special sequences done to the MRI scan that actually can show that there is ischemia going on, and by ischemia I mean lack of blood flow to a part of the brain," Dr Kissela explained. "That part of the brain is not getting enough oxygen and can be injured irreversibly as part of a stroke."

Dr. Kissela and his team will continue to study the frequency of strokes among diverse populations to better understand future trends as well as enhance preventative measures and improve diagnostics.

"We have a trend. We don’t necessarily have an answer behind why we’re seeing it, and that will be the next logical step."

While more studies are underway, Dr. Kissela offered advice for a new generation of at-risk patients: "Go to the doctor when you’re young and healthy, or so you think. You’re not immune to these types of problems that are now occurring much earlier in life than they use to. It’s important for people to go see the doctor and have regular check-ups and watch their health."

Source: The American Academy of Neurology, Ivanhoe Broadcast News Interview with Brett Kissela, MD, MS, at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio.

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