10/10/2012 04:01 pm ET

Stroke Affecting More Young People, Study Finds

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:

Foods That Lower Stroke Risk