Chances are, you know someone who has suffered a stroke. It’s that common. But why? And isn’t there something we can do to prevent it from happening?
Every year in the United States, nearly 800,000 people have a stroke and 600,000 of them experience them for the first time. Nevertheless, new research reveals that the past two decades have seen a decline in the number of Americans who suffer a stroke, not to mention a noticeable decline in the number of those who have a lower chance of dying from it. Good news, yes!
The study, conducted by Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July, showed a 24 percent drop in first-time strokes and a 20 percent decrease in deaths following a stroke. That’s in each of the last two decades.
Researchers compiled data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, which involved 15,792 participants, aged 45 to 64, during the 1980s. In total, 14,357 stroke-free people were followed. Their stroke hospitalizations and deaths were assessed between 1987 and 2011. Researchers learned that the reduction in stroke incidence and mortality is related to better control of risk factors. Take note: These risk factors include blood pressure, smoking cessation and the use of statins for controlling cholesterol.
It’s true that national data shows that death certificates citing stroke as the cause of death have declined. The majority of this decline was seen in those 65 years and older. Among this group, the number of strokes dropped by more than 30 percent every decade.
Meanwhile, in other age groups, the total number of strokes decreased 3 percent each decade. Researchers say that only studies like theirs can determine whether this decrease is due to a drop in the number of strokes or whether people are simply living longer after experiencing them.
“We can congratulate ourselves that we are doing well,” Dr. Josef Coresh, professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins, told Medical News Today. “But stroke is still the [fourth] cause of death in the U.S.”
As the American Stroke Association explains, strokes happen whenever a blood vessel – carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain – is either blocked by a clot or simply ruptures, killing brain cells altogether. It’s the fourth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the U.S., costing the country approximately $73.7 billion in medical and disability expenses, the Association reports.
Generally, factors strongly associated with stroke risks include stress, lack of exercise, alcohol and cigarettes, as well as overall diet. That’s because foods that are high in fat can lead to a build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries. This leads to the hardening or narrowing of the arteries, which in turn leads to high blood pressure and diabetes in addition to stroke.
Despite the latest stroke findings, researchers warn that with the growing obesity epidemic and the associated hypertension and diabetes, many Americans will have an increased stroke risk. Their research reminds us that there are many forces threatening to increase stroke rates once more. And if we don’t tackle them straight-on, the health gains seen in the last 20 years could be lost.