Strokes rise sharply in China economic boom: study

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The number of strokes caused by brain blood clots rose by almost 9 percent each year in Beijing in the two decades to 2004, researchers say, blaming the trend on economic prosperity and lifestyle changes.

A man looks at an electronic board at a securities exchange in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, January 22, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

While the number of people dying from these strokes is falling as a result of better health care, authorities should do more to reduce risk, including by improving diets, the Chinese researchers wrote in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“The challenges include better control of stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity,” wrote Dong Zhao, lead author of the study.

“Because fewer people are dying of stroke, the need to prevent recurrent strokes in survivors is growing. In addition, the need for rehabilitation services for stroke survivors also is rising,” wrote Zhao, director of the Department of Epidemiology at the Beijing Anzhen Hospital.

There were 14,585 strokes in Beijing from 1984 to 2004 and victims were aged between 25 to 74. Ischemic strokes, caused by blood clots, increased by 8.7 percent per year.

The proportion of smokers, a major stroke risk factor, changed very little, but obesity and cholesterol levels rose markedly in a period when China’s economy was transformed by a rise of manufacturing industry and soaring consumption.

Total fat intake per person increased from 88.1 grams a day in 1983 to 97.4 grams a day in 2002. Average blood cholesterol levels increased by 24 percent from 1984 to 1999, which explained the increase in ischemic heart disease deaths.

The number of diabetics grew by 97 percent from 1994 to 2002, while the number of obese people in China increased by 13 percent in urban areas and by 85 percent in rural areas.

Bleeding, or hemorrhagic, strokes fell 1.7 percent per year, with the rate of decline accelerating to 3.2 percent during the second decade of follow-up.

“Increased access to healthcare and improved blood pressure control are the most likely explanations for the decrease in hemorrhagic strokes,” Zhao said.

The total stroke rate, both bleeding and ischemic, increased 6.7 percent per year during the 20-year period.

The analysis also showed that people started having strokes at an older age, but fewer victims died.

Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; editing by Dominic Whiting and Sanjeev Miglani