If you are under 65, the fear of suffering a stroke probably isn’t keeping you awake at night. But startling new research suggests that the number of young American men and women hospitalized for strokes has drastically increased in recent years, mostly due to risk factors like high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
According to the study results, published this month in JAMA Neurology, 30,000 more stroke hospitalizations occurred in young adults in 2012 compared with 2003. What’s more, the percentage of those who had three or more of the five risk factors for stroke — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and obesity — spiked for adults aged 18 to 65.
The study looked at hospital billing data from 2003 to 2012 for individuals under the age of 65 who had suffered an ischemic stroke, which occurs when a clogged blood vessel prevents blood from flowing to the brain.
“The high and rising rates of stroke risk factors among young adults is concerning and likely contributing to the increase in stroke hospitalizations over time,” explains lead study author Dr. Mary George of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. George hopes that the study will urge younger Americans to practice and promote healthier behaviors, such as “exercising, eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, avoiding smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.”
Before this new research leads to bouts of insomnia, you should know that the study is being challenged in an article also published in JAMA Neurology. Authors James F. Burke, M.D., M.S., and Lesli E. Skolarus, M.D., M.S. wrote a response to the study, noting that the spike in strokes reported could be attributed to "changes in the measurement system." They also noted that population growth would account for at least half of the 30,000 additional stroke hospitalizations cited in the research.
“It is startling that in a country that spends almost 20 percent of the largest gross domestic product on the planet on health care, we cannot say with confidence whether the fifth leading cause of death in the United States is increasing or decreasing in the young,” say Burke and Skolarus. “Yet that is precisely our state of affairs.”
Whether or not the increase in strokes for Americans is as significant as this new research claims, it is a reminder that strokes do impact people under 65 — and it’s in your best interest to maintain a healthy lifestyle so you don’t become a statistic.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you know anyone under 65 who has suffered a stroke? Do you think this latest study is accurate? Do you worry about suffering a stroke in your younger years?