Study sees rise in young stroke sufferers

Oct 11 (Reuters) - Strokes are most common in old age, butU.S. research suggests that lifestyle is putting younger peopleincreasingly at risk for suffering strokes too.

In their study of two U.S. states, researchers whose reportappeared in the journal Neurology found that the rate of strokesamong adults younger than 55 nearly doubled between 1993 and2005.

Among whites aged 20 to 54, the rate rose from 26 strokesfor every 100,000 people, to 48 per 100,000. Among AfricanAmericans, it climbed from 83 to 128 per 100,000.

The researchers said they could only speculate on possibleexplanations. One might be that doctors are detecting strokes inyoung people more often, both as a result of betterbrain-imaging technology and being more vigilant.

"But I really don't think that's the major reason," saidlead researcher Brett Kissela, of the University of CincinnatiCollege of Medicine. "We're definitely seeing a higher incidenceof risk factors for stroke now."

Those risk factors include obesity, diabetes and high bloodpressure.

"And if you're developing them at the age of 20, then youmay have a stroke at a younger age too," Kissela said.

But a researcher not involved in the study agreed thatbetter diagnosis and a real increase in young people's risk ofstroke are both probably at work.

"Now MRI allows us to detect smaller strokes," said MitchellS.V. Elkind, of Columbia University in New York, who co-wrote aneditorial published with the study.

These include subtle symptoms like mild degrees of blurryvision, weakness or numbness. In the past, doctors might nothave thought "stroke" when a relatively young person had them -and MRI scans were not used often back in the 1990s.

The study was based on nearly 5,900 Ohio and Kentucky adultswho suffered a first-time stroke between 1993 and 2005. Overthat time, 20 to 54-year-olds accounted for a growing proportionof strokes - from 13 percent in 1993 to almost 19 percent by2005.

The study group came from only two U.S. states, but bothKissela and Elkind said the findings likely reflect what'shappening nationally. A government study last year found asimilar pattern nationwide.

Kissela's team found that in 1993-1994, only 18 percent ofall stroke patients in their study had an MRI. By 2005, thatfigure had risen to 58 percent.

"But that probably doesn't explain it all," Elkind said,noting that drug abuse can also cause strokes. "We know there'sbeen an increase in obesity and diabetes."

Kissela said the findings underscore the importance of ahealthy lifestyle and that younger adults shouldn't seethemselves as "invincible" and get to the doctor if they do infact have health problems like high blood pressure orcholesterol.

"It's a small percentage of young people who have strokes,but it can happen," Kissela said.SOURCE:

(Reporting from New York by Amy Norton at Reuters Health;editing by Elaine Lies)