| NEW YORK
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Even relatively healthy men
face an increased risk of stroke if they live in the
southeastern United States, and they are also more likely to
die from stroke than their peers living elsewhere in the
country, a new study shows.
The findings provide some of the first evidence to-date
that people living in the so-called "stroke belt" are more
likely to die of strokes because they are more likely to have
them, not because they get worse care, Dr. Virginia J. Howard
of the University of Alabama in Birmingham notes in an
editorial accompanying the study.
Even though researchers have been aware of the stroke belt
for decades, the reason why the stroke rates there are so high
remains a mystery. "I...believe that lifestyle habits are
driving this result, although I cannot prove it," Dr. Tobias
Kurth of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the lead
author, told Reuters Health.
Kurth and his team looked at men enrolled in the
Physicians' Health Study to see if an increased risk of stroke
deaths would be seen in a group of relatively healthy men
living in the region. Most of the men were white, free of heart
disease and apparently otherwise healthy at the study's outset
Among the 17,927 men included in their analysis, those
living in the Southeast (Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee,
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama,
Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas) were 22 percent more
likely to suffer a stroke during the subsequent two decades
than their peers living elsewhere in the country, the
The risk for ischemic stroke, blockage of the blood flow to
the brain causing tissue death, the most common type of stroke,
was 30 percent greater.
The findings provide more evidence that the "stroke belt"
is a real phenomenon, especially given that even relatively
healthy, white men showed an increased risk of stroke if they
lived in the region, Kurth noted.
The study wasn't able to delve too deeply into possible
mechanisms for the phenomenon, Kurth said, although his group
found no evidence that temperature or latitude were involved.
Based on the findings, he added, people living in stroke
belt states should be particularly conscious of their risk
factors for stroke -- which include high blood pressure,
obesity, smoking and high cholesterol -- and take steps to
SOURCE: Stroke, August 2007.