Chances are good that as you go about your daily life, of all the things that might cause you worry, having a stroke is not one of them. Unfortunately, it appears that the likelihood of suffering a stroke could be quite a bit higher than many other potential problems that might be on your mind. New research shows that, depending on where in the world you live, your stroke risk could be astonishingly close to 42 percent.
The study, which was conducted at the University of Washington in Seattle, found that the average estimated lifetime risk for having a stroke in people 25 and older around the world is 25 percent. These results are based on data collected for the Global Burden of Disease study—a comprehensive international program created to assess the impact of major diseases—in 2016, focusing on stroke-related risks in 195 countries around the world.
There are two types of stroke, and both were included in the investigation. The researchers looked at ischemic stroke, which is by far the more common of the two, responsible for roughly 85 percent of strokes and typically resulting from a blood clot blocking blood flow in the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke was also considered, and this type is responsible for the remaining 15 percent of strokes and generally occurs due to bleeding in the brain.
In 1990, the worldwide risk for stroke was 22.8 percent, which means the overall risk has risen more than two percent in less than 30 years. But each individual country and region had its own lifetime risk, and these ranged widely from eight percent all the way to 39.3 percent.
The risk was greatest among those living in China, who hit that global high 39.3 percent. The lowest risk of eight percent was found in sub-Saharan Africa. The United States was one of many nations in the middle, with a risk that stretched from 23 to 29 percent. Regionally, the areas with the highest stroke risk were East Asia at 38.8 percent, Central Europe at 31.7 percent, and Eastern Europe at 31.6 percent.
Gender differences were statistically small in most of the data evaluated. However, the most marked disparity was in China, where men had a risk of 41.1 percent while women were quite a bit lower at 36.7 percent. And in Latvia, women had the dubious distinction of having the highest risk among their gender at 41.7 percent.
While there was not much good news in these findings, one of the few bright spots was that certain parts of the world did manage to lower their risk of stroke since 1990. The regions that dropped significantly in risk included Central Asia, southern and tropical Latin America, high-income areas of Asia-Pacific, and southern sub-Saharan Africa.
We know that demographics can have a huge influence on stroke risk thanks to regional styles of food preparation and the prevalence of diabetes and obesity. For example, part of the southern U.S. is referred to as the “stroke belt” due to a mortality rate from stroke more than 10 percent higher than the rest of the country, and this has been shown to be associated in part with copious consumption of fried fish.
Ultimately, the present study is a very good reminder that stroke is not a health problem that strikes only the elderly as stroke rates have been on the rise in younger people for years. But many risk factors for stroke—such as being overweight or obese, eating a diet high in calories and the wrong kinds of fat, and leading a sedentary lifestyle—are within your control. Take these risks seriously; make more nutritious food choices; and start a daily exercise routine to help lose any excess weight and strengthen your cardiovascular system. You’ll find it won’t take long to start seeing a difference in how you feel, and over time, your risk for stroke, and many other diseases too will begin steadily dropping.