The number of young people in the United States hospitalized due to stroke has jumped by 50 percent since the mid-1990s, even as the number of older Americans suffering from stroke has declined.
Each year, nearly 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke. While three-quarters of these individuals are elderly, the disease can and does occur in younger adults, and even children.
According to a new national study which compared the number of stroke hospitalizations in 1994 and 1995 with those in 2006 and 2007, the number of people aged five to 44 who suffered acute ischemic stroke rose by 50 percent.
Ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a blood clot or fatty deposit. The lack of oxygen caused by the blockage destroys brain tissue and can lead to paralysis or death.
The study was based on a sample of 10,000 hospitalizations nationwide.
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In the 5-to-14 year-old age group, researchers discovered a 31 percent increase in stroke admissions among boys, from 2.8 to 3.8 hospitalizations per 10,000, and a 36 percent jump in hospitalizations, from 3.6 to 4.7, among girls.
Public health experts believe increased obesity in children and young adults might account for some of the rise in these stroke-related hospitalizations. But Mary George of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, which conducted the study, says the apparent rise in ischemic stroke among young Americans needs further investigation.
"Whether this is perhaps related to changes in patient factors, in risk factors, or whether it?s related to changes in hospital admitting practices over time," she says. "Whether it?s related to improved diagnostic ability over time and heightened awareness. There?s a variety of reasons that might lead to this."
Researchers found the biggest increase in hospitalizations for stroke, 53 percent, was among males aged 15 to 34.
But George says that among the two oldest age groups, men and women aged 45 to 64 and those over the age of 65, there was a marked decrease in the number of hospitalizations due to ischemic stroke.
"It?s possible that it could be improved through increased prevention, heightened awareness to the need to institute preventive lifestyle changes and preventive medications in the elderly, where we know this is a high-risk population. But again, this study really can?t speculate on that."
The results of the stroke study were announced at the American Heart Association?s annual Stroke Conference in California.