Stroke Drops to No. 5 Cause of Death in U.S.

Stroke has dropped from the nation’s fourth-leading cause of death to No. 5, according to new federal statistics. It is the second time since 2011 that stroke has dropped a spot in the mortality rankings.

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, stroke swapped positions with unintentional injuries, which killed 1,579 more people than stroke in 2013.

“The fact that the death rate is declining from this terrible and devastating disease is gratifying news,” said American Heart Association/American Stroke Association President Elliott Antman, M.D., professor of medicine and associate dean for Clinical/Translational Research at Harvard Medical School and a senior physician in the Cardiovascular Division of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Still, far too many people are dying from stroke, and too many people are suffering greatly from this disease.”

The stroke death rate dropped slightly, from 36.9 percent in 2012 to 36.2 percent in 2013. Heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in the nation. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death, followed by chronic lower respiratory diseases.

The decline in stroke deaths may be due in part to improvements in treatment and prevention, said Ralph Sacco, M.D., past president of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and chairman of Neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“There are more stroke centers now operating in the U.S., and the acute care of stroke is improving,” said Sacco. “However, although mortality from stroke is dropping, we know that the number of people having strokes in the U.S. is rising each year due to the aging of our population and other signs that strokes have increased in younger groups.”

Despite the lower death rate, 432 more people died from stroke in 2013 than in 2012, the report found, which underscores the need for all Americans to learn the sudden signs of stroke and know what to do if a stroke is suspected. The American Stroke Association’s Together to End Stroke initiative, which is nationally sponsored by Covidien, teaches the acronym F.A.S.T. to help. F.A.S.T. is a way to recognize the most common signs of a stroke.

F.A.S.T. stands for:

F – Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.

A – Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S – Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand?

T – Time to call 9-1-1: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Stroke remains a leading cause of disability in the U.S. In fact, the number of people having strokes – often with painful and debilitating after-effects – remains a major cause of concern.

“Stroke is more disabling than it is fatal,” said Sacco. “Getting medical attention at the first sign of a stroke gives the patient the best chance for recovery.”

To download the American Stroke Association’s free “Spot a Stroke F.A.S.T.” mobile app and find nearby hospitals recognized for stroke care, visit

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