New research shows that hospitalizations for black stroke patients younger than 65 in South Carolina jumped more than 17 percent between 2001 and 2010, while stroke hospitalizations among middle-age white patients did not change.

The study, published last week by the American Heart Association, also reports that stroke hospitalizations decreased in black and white patients older than 65 years.

The study analyzed more than 84,000 records for stroke patients discharged from South Carolina hospitals during that decade.

"Excess strokes among blacks as well as the lingering racial disparity in the younger groups represent a serious public health issue," said Dr. Wayne Feng, a Medical University of South Carolina neurologist and the study's lead author, in a prepared statement.

South Carolina is included in a swath of Southern states called "the stroke belt." The state has some of the highest rates of stroke and stroke-related death in the country.

MUSC's telestroke program, founded in 2008, connects several rural hospitals across the state with specialists in Charleston, who can provide timely, remote care without transporting patients from their own community's hospital.

The program intends to improve outcomes among stroke patients who live too far from acute, stroke-ready hospitals and primary stroke centers. Palmetto Health operates a similar program, connecting rural stroke patients with experts in Columbia.

Stroke is caused when a clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, or the blood vessel ruptures, preventing oxygen flow to brain cells, according to a press release about the new study. Risk factors including high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes.

"Our results show the importance of staying healthy, exercising and eating well, and starting these healthy habits while you are still young," Feng said.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.