New research published in the October 10, 2012 online issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology, reveals that strokes are becoming more common in younger people.1 While part of the explanation for this alarming trend could be improved diagnosis through advanced imaging technology, it is believed that our unhealthy lifestyles are the major contributor to the rise in risk factors for stroke; namely: the soaring prevalence of diabetes and obesity in young adults. This is of great concern from a public health perspective because medical intervention today allows more people to survive a stroke when it occurs, with the downside often being a lifetime of disabilities from the neurological damage suffered. Still, across America, stroke is the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. Although the incidence of strokes in the U.S. has declined over the past 50 years, our population still experiences over 750,000 new strokes a year. What is most alarming is that the severity of strokes has not declined over the decades. It is already a leading cause of adult disability. Sadly, up to 80% of strokes are considered preventable, and with this latest research data, that percentage could be climbing.
The study found that the average age of people experiencing a stroke fell from 71 years of age to 69 in the last 12 years. More significant is the fact that strokes among people under age 55 comprised a larger percentage of all age groups experiencing a stroke despite our aging population, growing from 13% to 19% from 1993 to 2005. And while the racial and ethnic composition of our country’s population has shifted towards non-whites, the researchers found that the stroke rate in African-Americans – already five times more likely than Caucasians to experience a stroke – rose from 83 per 100,000 to 128, or by 54% over the period. With the epidemic rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes occurring in Hispanics living in the U.S., they are potentially even more vulnerable to strokes in the near future than African-Americans! This is still one more reason that younger adults should see a doctor regularly to monitor their health and wellness, especially if their risk factors for stroke and heart disease could be elevated by excess weight and blood sugar levels that are out of control.
The National Stroke Association explains that a stroke or "brain attack" occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the body or a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flow and thus oxygen to an area of the brain. When either of these things happens, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs. It is called a cerebrovascular accident, or CVA, in medical terms. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain are lost, such as speech, movement and memory. How a stroke patient is affected depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain, how much the brain is damaged, and how quickly a victim receives medical attention and intervention. While some people recover completely, more than two-thirds live permanently with one or more disabilities2.
Urinary and fecal incontinence are considered good markers of severity, as researchers have found that 52% of stroke patients experiencing the onset of urinary incontinence and 59% of stroke patients experiencing the onset of fecal incontinence are dead within six months3. Learn how chronic bladder and bowel control problems caused by the neurological damage induced by a stroke can be addressed at the National Association For Continence.
Nancy Muller, PhD
1 Kessela et al, 2012.
2 Available at http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=stroke, accessed November 7, 2012.
3 Brittain, Peet, & Castleden, 1998.