THURSDAY, May 24, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- While fewer people in the United States are dying from strokes, the number of strokes has remained about the same, health officials report. And their findings bear out the South's reputation as the nation's so-called "stroke belt."
According to the report on stroke prevalence from 2006 to 2010, the number of self-reported strokes dipped slightly from 2.7 percent to 2.6 percent during that time. However, disparities still exist by geography, race and ethnicity, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Overall, there is not much change in these five years," said lead report author Dr. Jing Fang, an epidemiologist in CDC's Division of Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.
Only two states -- Georgia and South Dakota -- showed a significant decrease, she added.
However, deaths from stroke decreased significantly, with the CDC reporting a 3.6 percent decline from 2007 to 2008. More people survive strokes primarily because of better treatment.
Since this report is based on people reporting they had a stroke, it's no surprise that reported strokes did not drop significantly, and actually an increase in reported stroke would be expected, Fang said.
"Since mortality has decreased it means that more people say: 'yes, they had a stroke,'" she said.
The report was published in the May 25 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Geographically, there continues to be high incidence of stroke in Southeastern states, although some other states had high rates.
States with the highest rates of stroke include South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Nevada.
Those with the lowest rates include New York, Michigan, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the New England states.
Older people, American Indians/Alaska Natives, blacks and people with lower levels of education had more strokes than younger people, whites and those with higher levels of education, the researchers found.
The disparities in stroke, a leading cause of long-term disability, are largely due to lifestyle factors including obesity, high blood pressure and smoking, Fang said.
"Southern states have higher rates of obesity, smoking and hypertension, which are all risk factors for stroke," she said.
This is also true for blacks and American Indians/Alaska Natives, and people with lower levels of education, Fang said.
Dr. Ralph Sacco, chair of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said it is "reassuring that some of our stroke prevention efforts seem to be working."
However, he said, "The disparities in stroke prevalence by age, race and education continue to highlight the importance of stroke in certain segments of our population who need more intensive stroke prevention and treatment efforts."
Sacco noted that with an aging U.S. population, better data and monitoring will be needed to avoid higher rates of stroke in the future.
To learn more about stroke, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.