As the American population ages, the cost of treating stroke will more than double by 2030, with the incidence of strokes rising by 20 percent.

Nearly four percent of the U.S. will have a stroke by 2030, meaning another 3.4 million people requiring treatment, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Stroke, published by the American Heart Association.

Costs to the health care system may increase from $71.55 billion in 2010 to $183.13 billion by then, with annual costs from lost productivity rising from $33.65 billion to $183.13 billion. The highest increase in stroke is expected among Americans who are currently 45 to 64 years old, with slightly more than one in 20 expected to suffer stroke.

Hispanic men may experience the highest increase in the stroke rate between now and then, with the cost of treating stroke in Hispanic women set to triple. "Strokes will absolutely strain the health care system," Dr. Bruce Ovbiagele, M.D., professor and chairman of the department of neurology at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, told media. "Ninety percent of stroke patients have residual disability and only 10 percent recover completely after a stroke."

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death and one of the top causes of preventable disability in the country, occurring when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a clot or bleeding vessel, quickly starving the brain cells of oxygen.

"Getting patients specialized acute stroke care as soon as possible is critical. During every minute of delayed treatment, brain cells are dying," Ovbiagele said. "EMS systems nationwide should take patients directly to a designated stroke center equipped to quickly diagnose and administer drugs to restore blood flow to the brain."

Today, Hispanics and African Americans suffer stroke at higher rates with worse outcomes, the researchers said. Moreover, people without health insurance experience a 24 percent to 56 percent higher risk of death from stroke. Most susceptible are people between 45 and 64 who are less likely than the young to afford medications but too young to receive Medicare. People in this unfortunate demographic are also more likely to be obese and have diabetes, compared to older stroke survivors, Ovbiagele said.

However, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 would expand health insurance coverage to some 32 million Americans, with increased emphasis on preventative medicine, too. Researchers reporting in Stroke said these policy changes should mitigate the number of strokes, deaths, and costs when fully implemented next year. By that time, preventive screenings and services would be available to 86 million Americans who previously lacked coverage for such care, which includes preventive care for hypertension, high cholesterol, and smoking.

Source: Goldstein LB, Higashida RT, Howard VJ, et al. Stroke. 2013.