Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States killing one person every 4 minutes, on average. Another 660,000 stokes in the country do not result in death, but many are debilitating. Yet, a new worldwide study shows that more than 90 percent of strokes are preventable so why the high death rate?
Preventing strokes is a major public health priority in countless countries. To hone in on strategies for reducing the likelihood of having a stroke, researchers sought to find information on key preventable causes of strokes.
The international team of researchers discovered that 10 risk factors that are largely controllable can be attributed as the cause for 90 percent of strokes across the globe. The study, which was published last week in the British medical journal “The Lancet,” was based on data on approximately 27,000 people from over 30 countries (of note, the list does not include the United States).
The team looked at the specific risk factors that could be established as leading to the patients’ strokes to determine which risks would reduce the stroke rate. They found that eliminating high blood pressure alone would reduce people’s stroke risks by nearly 48 percent.
“The study confirms that hypertension (high blood pressure) is the most important modifiable risk factor in all regions, and the key target in reducing the burden of stroke globally,” according to the effort’s co-leader Dr. Martin O’Donnell. The doctor, who is an associate professor at McMaster University Population Health Research Institute in Hamilton, Canada as well as the HRB-Clinical Research Facility located in Galway, Ireland, also noted in a press release about the study that their effort is large enough and broad enough “to explore stroke risk factors in all major regions of the world, within key populations and within stroke subtypes.”
Other things that could be eliminated as risk factors included physical inactivity, poor diet, obesity, smoking and other heart causes (such as irregular heart rhythms or atrial fibrillation). The last four they identified were diabetes, alcohol use, stress and levels of lipids (blood fats). These 10 items were found around the world as stroke risk factors, but the percentage of strokes involved in each varied by country due to differences in things like smoking rates and diet. For example, hypertension was actually a far more significant risk factor in Southeast Asia (tied to 60 percent of all strokes).
While the study does help identify things people can do to reduce their risk of having a stroke, reducing the amount of preventable strokes in the U.S. is a lofty target. The link between cancer and smoking has been established for decades, but people start smoking every year – in spite of knowing the potential outcome. Similarly, obesity is a huge risk factor for countless issues (diabetes, some cancers, heart issues, and more), but waistlines keep expanding. Besides publicizing that 90 percent of strokes are preventable, it will take considerable effort on public health officials behalf and the public to change behaviors enough to reduce the high death rate and make an impact.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
McMaster University: Global study shows stroke largely preventable
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Stroke
U.S. News & World Report: 9 Out of 10 Strokes Could Be Prevented, Study Finds
Daily News & Analysis India: Researchers claim 90% of strokes can be prevented
Photo courtesy of Volganet — Creative Commons license