Factors Associated With Geographic Variations in Stroke Incidence Among Older Populations in Four US Communities

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Background and Purpose—

In the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), we previously observed lower stroke incidence in Allegheny County, PA compared with the other 3 study sites. The purpose of this study was to study possible reasons for the lower stroke incidence in Allegheny County.


CHS participants 65 years or older who were stroke-free at baseline (n=5639) were followed between 1989 to 1990 and 2000 for the development of stroke. Risk factors at baseline and their subsequent control were compared among both groups. Site-specific hazard ratios for stroke incidence were calculated using Cox regression models.


The unadjusted hazard ratio for total stroke incidence in Forsyth County, NC; Sacramento County, CA; and Washington County, MD combined compared with Allegheny County, PA was 1.74 (95% CI: 1.42, 2.14). After adjustment for age and other traditional risk factors, there was modest reduction of the excess hazard in non-Allegheny sites compared with Allegheny County (hazard ratio=1.52, 95% CI: 1.17, 1.98). Between baseline and the seventh-year visits, control of hypertension, diabetes, lipids, smoking, atrial fibrillation and transient ischemic attack were similar across sites. White matter grade ≥3 on the baseline brain MRI was less common in Allegheny County (25.8% versus 36.3%, respectively; P<0.001) and accounted for 25% of the excess hazard in non-Allegheny sites compared with Allegheny County.


Site differences in stroke risk factors at baseline and subsequent control only partially explain site differences in stroke incidence. White matter grade as a possible integrated measure of exposure and control of risk factors may help in explaining geographic variations in stroke incidence.

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