A new study appearing in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), designates the teenage years as a “key period of vulnerability” for future stroke risk and is associated with living in the Southeastern area of the United States, known as the “stroke belt.” A recent news release from the AAN reports that there are more stroke-related fatalities in this area than in the rest of the US, with prior research indicating a partial component of this difference is linked to traditional risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
The release notes that in the current study, researchers aimed to assess how long individuals lived in the stroke belt and their ages when they lived there throughout life in order to pinpoint whether any age period appeared to be the most critical in influencing future stroke risk.
Researchers say they gathered data from the REasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, which is a national random sample of the general population with additional people selected from the stroke belt. The study involved 24,544 individuals with an average age of 65 years who had never sustained a stroke at the study’s start. A total of 57% of patients were reported to be currently living in the stroke belt, and 43% hailed from areas in the rest of US. Researchers note that the data tracked each individual’s progress from birth to present, with some individuals moving into or out of the stroke belt. Participants were then followed for an average of 5.8 years, during which 615 participants sustained their first stroke.
The results suggest that living in the stroke belt during the teenage years was linked to a higher risk of stroke. The results go on to indicate that individuals who spent their teenage years in the stroke belt were 17% more likely to have a stroke in the future than individuals who did not spend their teenage years in the stroke belt.
J. Howard, PhD, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, AAN member, emphasizes that the study’s results indicate a need for earlier stroke prevention strategies, as “Many social and behavioral risk factors, such as smoking, are set in place during the teenage years, and teens are more exposed to external influences and gain the knowledge to challenge or reaffirm their childhood habits and lifestyle,” Howard says.