Strokes are hitting at a younger age, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.
Researchers from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that the average age at which a person experiences a stroke fell to 69.2 in 2005, from 71.2 in 1993/1994.
"The reasons for this trend could be a rise in risk factors such as diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol," study researcher Dr. Brett Kissela, M.D., said in a statement. "Other factors, such as improved diagnosis through the increased use of MRI imaging may also be contributing. Regardless, the rising trend found in our study is of great concern for public health because strokes in younger people translate to greater lifetime disability."
The study included 1.3 million people who lived in the greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky region during 1993/1994, 1999 and 2005.
Researchers found that the number of people younger than 55 who experienced their first stroke during that time period increased to 19 percent in 2005, from 13 percent in 1993/1994.
Plus, the stroke rate among 20-to-54-year-olds increased between the beginning and end of the study; among Caucasians, strokes rose to 48 for every 100,000 people in 2005, compared with 26 strokes for every 100,000 people in 1993/1994. For African-Americans, strokes increased to 128 for every 100,000 people in 2005, compared with 83 strokes for every 100,000 people in 1993/1994.
"Among the young, the increase in incidence suggests an unknown and potentially daunting future trajectory," wrote Drs. Sally Sultan, M.D., and Mitchell S.V. Elkind, M.D., in an accompanying editorial. "Replication of these findings in other U.S. populations and internationally is crucial, and future studies will need to account for potential temporal trends in diagnostic testing while also teasing out causative factors."
The findings follow a recent study in the journal Annals of Neurology, showing that hospitalizations for ischemic stroke have gone up by 37 percent from 1995 to 2008 among people between ages 15 and 44.
Want to lower your risk of stroke? Controllable risk factors include blood pressure and cholesterol, alcohol and tobacco use, obesity, physical activity and diabetes status, according to the National Stroke Association.
And check out our slideshow of foods that have been shown in studies to be associated with a lower stroke risk:
A Swedish study in the journal Neurology showed that eating chocolate is linked with a lower risk of stroke in men. The study, which included 37,103 men, showed that men who ate the most chocolate in the 10-year study had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke, compared with those who didn't report eating any chocolate during that time period.
Eating lots of whole grains could help to lower risk of ischemic stroke for women, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The findings showed that women who ate the most whole grains in the study (like the amount you'd get by eating two or three whole grain bread slices every day) had a 30 to 40 percent lower stroke risk, compared with women who ate the fewest whole grains in the study (like the amount you'd get by eating just a half-slice of whole grain bread every day), according to ABC News.
An antioxidant found in citrus fruits could help to lower risk of stroke in women, according to a study of 70,000 women earlier this year in the journal Stroke. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital found that women who consumed the most flavonoids over a 14-year period had a 19 percent lower risk of stroke than the women who consumed the fewest flavonoids during that time period.
While antioxidants aren't exactly a food on their own, fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are rich in them are linked with a lower stroke risk for women. Research published in the journal Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association showed that women with no heart disease history who consumed the most antioxidants from food had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke, and women with a heart disease history who consumed the most antioxidants from food had a 57 percent decreased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. The researchers, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, speculated that the protection comes from antioxidants' ability to stop inflammation and oxidative stress in the body by neutralizing harmful free radicals. Antioxidants can also help to reduce blood clots and lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation, according to the American Heart Association.
Consuming low-fat dairy could help to lower the risk of stroke, according to a Stroke study. The research showed that the adults who consumed the most low-fat dairy over a 10-year period had a 12 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who consumed the least low-fat dairy over the time period. "It is possible that vitamin D in low-fat dairy foods may explain, in part, the observed lowered risk of stroke in this study because of its potential effect on blood pressure," study researcher Susanna Larsson, Ph.D., associate professor of nutritional epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet, said in a statement.
Foods loaded with magnesium -- like beans, nuts leafy greens and whole grains -- are linked with a lower risk of ischemic stroke, WebMD Reported. The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed specifically that for each 100 milligrams of magnesium consumed each day, ischemic stroke risk went down by 9 percent.
Making sure to eat some fish every week could help to lower risk of stroke, according to a review of studies published in the journal Stroke. Reuters reported on the study, which showed that eating fish several times a week was linked with a lower risk of stroke, compared with non-fish eaters. "I think overall, fish does provide a beneficial package of nutrients, in particular the omega-3s, that could explain this lower risk," Dariush Mozaffarian, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, whose research was part of the Stroke analysis, told Reuters.
Learn the different symptoms of stroke, and what happens inside the body when you suffer a stroke.