By TARA PARKER-POPE
More young people and adults in their 30s and 40s are being hospitalized for stroke, even as stroke rates are dropping in older people, new data show. The findings, reported this week at the American Stroke Association conference in Dallas, may be a sign that that rising rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure among teenagers and young adults are taking a toll. Or it may simply be that physicians have improved their diagnosis and reporting of stroke in young people during the past decade.
Ischemic stroke occurs when a clot or narrowing of the arteries stifles the blood supply to the brain. Analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed the number of acute ischemic stroke hospitalizations by age and sex from 1994 to 2007. They found that stroke hospitalizations among men and women 45 and older have fallen by 25 and 29 percent, respectively.
But stroke hospitalizations rose sharply among men and women ages 15 to 44, including a 51-percent jump among 15- to 34-year-old men. There were also notable increases among children, though the number of strokes in children remains very small over all. The study found increases of more than 30 percent in boys and girls ages 5 to 14. Hospitalization for strokes declined, however, in girls younger than 5.
The study authors urged caution in interpreting the results, because the research wasn’t designed to determine the reasons behind the changing hospitalization trends. A number of factors could explain the rise in young people, including changes in the way hospitals track patients admitted for stroke. Better awareness about stroke risk in young people, more referrals of young patients to stroke neurologists and improved diagnostic ability using scanning technology could also be fueling the rise in younger age groups. A rise in obesity and other related health problems may also explain some of the increase.
Also notable is the apparent decline in stroke among older people, which may be explained by stepped-up efforts at preventing stroke among the elderly. That said, the researchers pointed out that stroke is still far more common among older adults than among young people.
“This study shows that by far and away the vast majority of strokes still are occurring in those over 65,” said a study co-author, Dr. Mary G. George, medical officer in the division for heart disease and stroke prevention at the C.D.C.
Dr. George said more study is needed to understand the latest findings, which are most likely explained by some combination of “patient and system factors.”
“The study wasn’t designed to look at possible causes behind it,” said Dr. George. “We feel this certainly deserves further investigation.”