Stroke could soon be the most common cause of death worldwide. Stroke is currently the second leading cause of death in the Western world, ranking after heart disease and before cancer, Geographic disparities in stroke incidence have been observed, including the existence of a "stroke belt" in the southeastern United States, but causes of these disparities have not been explained.
The incidence of stroke increases exponentially from 30 years of age, and etiology varies by age. Advanced age is one of the most significant stroke risk factors. 95% of strokes occur in people age 45 and older, and two-thirds of strokes occur in those over the age of 65. A person's risk of dying if he or she does have a stroke also increases with age. However, stroke can occur at any age, including in fetuses. Men are 25% more likely to suffer strokes than women.
Family members may have a genetic tendency for stroke or share a lifestyle that contributes to stroke. Higher levels of Von Willebrand factor are more common amongst people who have had ischemic stroke for the first time. The results of this study found that the only significant genetic factor was the person's blood type. Having had a stroke in the past greatly increases one's risk of future strokes.
The word ''stroke'' was used as a synonym for apoplectic seizure as early as 1599, and is a fairly literal translation of the Greek term.
In 1658, in his ''Apoplexia'', Johann Jacob Wepfer (1620–1695) identified the cause of hemorrhagic stroke when he suggested that people who had died of apoplexy had bleeding in their brains.
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