The rate of stroke deaths is declining in South Carolina, a state known as the buckle of the U.S. stroke belt. In fact, South Carolina suffers the nation’s highest rate of stroke deaths — and the numbers include much younger people and twice as many African Americans.
According to a study led by MUSC researcher Dr. Dan Lackland and the American Heart Association, strokes dropped from third to the fourth highest cause of death in South Carolina and nationwide.
“We really do feel that it is a major, major public health accomplishment,” Lackland said. “(And that) can be attributed to interventions proposed 20 and 30 years ago.”
The most recent numbers show that 50 per 100,000 people die of strokes, down from 200 per 100,000 in the 1950s.
First, Lackland said, he made sure the trend was true.
“The decline is real, not a statistical fluke or the result of more people dying of lung disease, the third leading cause of death.”
Lackland then assembled a panel of leading experts from around the world, which determined two things: more stroke victims are surviving afterwards, and fewer strokes are happening thanks to prevention.
“We can’t attribute these positive changes to any one or two specific actions or factors as many different prevention and treatment strategies had a positive impact,” Lackland said. “Policymakers now have evidence that the money spent on stroke research and programs aimed at stroke prevention and treatment has been spent wisely and lives have been saved.”
He said that patients also should get credit for making themselves healthier and taking part in drug regimens that can be expensive.
“The patient is paying money for this medication and the patient is doing something, following directions and preventing a stroke from occurring,” Lackland said.
He said that such a significant decline shows that stroke numbers can diminish further.
“We know we can affect stroke rates, so now let’s be very specific in our approach,” Lackland said. “There could be a day when stroke is not even in the top 10.”