Stroke burden - especially in elderly - much higher than previously estimated

December 01, 1999

DALLAS, Dec. 3 -- The number of individuals in the United States who have strokes each year is higher than the half million previously estimated, according to a study in the December issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers compared their data to 1995 statistics gathered from the Framingham Heart Study, which showed that approximately 500,000 individuals suffer strokes each year in the United States. However, the American Heart Association's 1999 Heart and Stroke Statistical Update, uses more current data to put the number of strokes at 600,000 per year.

"Our study confirmed a recent one which found that the number of first-time and recurrent strokes in the United States each year is actually closer to 750,000," says the study's lead author G. Rhys Williams, M.S., director of the Department of Health Outcomes Management and Research of Knoll Pharmaceutical Co., Mount Olive, New Jersey.

Not surprisingly, this latest study confirmed earlier findings that indicate total stroke incidence increased dramatically with age for both men and women. However, Williams says the number of recurrent strokes in the elderly population (over 65) turned out to be much higher than previously believed.

Williams and his team found that total stroke incidence was 1.5 times higher than first-ever stroke incidence among individuals aged 65 to 74; twice as high as earlier estimates for those in the 75 to 84 age group; and three times higher for those age 85 and over. Williams says this suggests that for individuals over 75, 50 percent to 70 percent of strokes are recurrent compared to 25 percent to 35 percent for all age groups in the general population.

"As the elderly population continues to grow, the stroke burden in this country will also grow unless something is done to prevent strokes and to find better ways to treat and reduce the effects of stroke," says Williams.

"Stroke is a leading cause of adult disability in the United States and its effects can be incredibly debilitating, particularly in elderly patients. But a stroke actually touches far more people than just the patient. It has profound effects on family members, friends and caregivers as well," Williams says.

Williams says future studies on stroke rates should look more closely at stroke incidence in non-Caucasian populations. "Previous research indicates that African Americans are at higher risk for stroke than Caucasians. However, stroke incidence research on Hispanics and Asians is limited," he says.

While previous studies on stroke occurrence in this country have focused on smaller patient registries, mainly Caucasians, this one used a large administrative database. For statistics on individuals who were hospitalized for stroke, Williams and his colleagues looked at a representative 20 percent sample of all inpatient hospital discharges for 1995 - a total of more than 6 million discharges from 938 hospitals in 19 states.

Researchers used a literature review to estimate stroke rates in individuals who were not hospitalized.

The researchers point out that stroke, which is the third leading cause of death in the United States, is preventable in most cases, and has many modifiable risk factors. The risk factors for stroke include increasing age, family history, race, prior stroke, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes, heart disease and excessive alcohol consumption.

Co-authors include John G. Jiang, Ph.D.; David B. Matchar, M.D.; and Gregory P. Samsa, Ph.D.
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Media Advisory: Mr. Williams can be reached at (973) 426-5681. (Please do not publish number.)

American Heart Association

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