Strokes are becoming a growing problem for adults before they reach middle age.
A new study shows that the number of adults under 55 who suffered a stroke climbed significantly over the past decade. The findings suggest many adults may want to start monitoring their heart health at earlier ages.
Researchers reviewed a database of 1.3 million adults living in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky regions, looking to see the number of adults who suffered strokes between 1993 and 1994, and the 1999 and 2005 calendar years. They looked specifically at adults between the ages of 20 and 54, to see how stroke trends changed among this age group over the course of the study.
They found the average age people suffered a stroke fell from 71 between 1993-1994 to age 69 during 2005. A closer look showed that 13 percent of stroke sufferers were adults ages 20-54 during 1993-1994, but that number shot up to 19 percent for that age group during the 2005 calendar year.
The study also found the stroke rate in young adults increased in African-Americans from 83 strokes per 100,000 people in 1993-94 to 128 strokes per 100,000 in 2005. In Caucasians, the stroke rate climbed from 26 strokes per 100,000 people in 1993-94 to 48 per 100,000 in 2005.
"The reasons for this trend could be a rise in risk factors such as diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol," study author Dr. Brett Kissela, a professor of neurology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio, said in a written statement. He also said that increased use of MRI machines has led to better diagnosis of strokes. "Regardless, the rising trend found in our study is of great concern for public health," he noted.
"If patients start having their strokes younger, they will be left with many more years of having disability," Dr. Aviva Lubin, director of the stroke division at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the study, told CBS News.
The researchers say modifying potential risk factors for stroke could curb risk among younger adults. Risk for stroke can be increased by high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight and obese, physical inactivity, heavy drinking and illicit drug use, according to The Mayo Clinic.
"The good news is that some of the possible contributing factors to these strokes can be modified with lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise," said Kissela. "However, given the increase in stroke among those younger than 55, younger adults should see a doctor regularly to monitor their overall health and risk for stroke and heart disease."
Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, taking 137,000 lives each year. About 795,000 Americans will suffer a new or recurrent stroke in 2012, according to the American Stroke Association -- about one stroke every 40 seconds.
According to the association, people should call 911 immediately at any signs of a stroke. Signs include the face drooping on one side, one arm drifting downward when trying to raise both, and slurred or strange speech.