Strokes are rising dramatically among young and middle-aged Americans while dropping in older people, a sign that the obesity epidemic may be starting to shift the age burden of the disease.
The numbers, reported Wednesday at an American Stroke Association conference, come from the first large nationwide study of stroke hospitalizations by age. Government researchers compared hospitalizations in 1994 and 1995 with ones in 2006 and 2007.
The sharpest increase — 51 percent — was among men 15 through 34. Strokes rose among women in this age group, too, but not as fast — 17 percent.
Stroke still takes its highest toll on older people. For those over 65, there were nearly 300 stroke cases among 10,000 hospitalizations in the more recent period studied. For males 15 to 34, there were about 15 stroke cases per 10,000, and for girls and women in that age group there were about 4 per 10,000.
Several small studies had recently suggested an ominous rise among the young and among middle-aged women.
For every 10,000 hospitalizations in 1994-95 compared with 2006-07, strokes rose:
_51 percent, from 9.8 to 14.8, among males 15 to 34 years old
Better awareness of stroke symptoms and better imaging methods for detecting strokes in young people could account for some of that change, but there is no way to know, she said.
Strokes dropped 25 percent among men 65 and older (from 404 to 303 per 10,000 hospitalizations), and 28 percent among women in this age group (from 379 to 274). At the University of California at Los Angeles, doctors are seeing more strokes related to high blood pressure and clogged arteries in younger people, said Dr. Jeffrey Saver, director of the stroke center at UCLA.
Allison Hooker, a nurse who coordinates stroke care at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., said her hospital also is seeing more strokes in younger people with risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, alcohol overuse and diabetes. Also at the conference: _A preliminary study raised concern about diet soda and stroke risk. Researchers found that people who said they drank diet soda every day had a 48 percent higher risk of stroke or heart attack than people who drank no soda of any kind. Researchers adjusted for differences in other risk factors, such as smoking and high blood pressure. _The same study also found higher risks for people consuming more than 1,500 milligrams of salt a day — the limit the American Heart Association recommends. Researchers found that stroke risk rose 16 percent for every 500 milligrams of salt consumed each day.