June 25 (UPI) -- Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke, and now a new method may be able to predict the risk and prevent the event, a new study says.
Researchers found that elevated levels of protein found in the blood of people with diabetes can increase the risk of stroke, according to findings published Tuesday in Stroke.
As it is, previous research suggests people with diabetes are at a higher risk for stroke, with that risk increasing about 3 percent each year.
"To be successful at preventing strokes from occurring, we first need to accurately identify those who are likely to have a stroke so we can target stroke prevention therapies to the correct at-risk people," Frederick Korley, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Michigan Medicine and study author, said in a news release.
For the study, researchers measured blood protein levels in 363 diabetic patients with no previous history of stroke. After a seven-year follow-up, the researchers found 113 patients suffered a stroke.
The researchers pinpointed elevated levels of protein in the patient's blood, but a certain protein stood out.
"One of these proteins is neurofilament light chain (NfL), the focus in our study," Korley said.
Prior to a stroke, Korley says, a person has smaller strokes without any clinical symptoms. These small strokes could lead to the release of proteins linked to the death of brain cells.
In study participants who later had a stroke, NfL levels were about 43 percent higher than those who did not have one -- and those in the top 25 percent of participants were found to be 10 times more likely to have one than the bottom 25 percent.
NfL, the researchers suggest, may be a key protein that triggers strokes.
Traditionally, doctors have used the Framingham Stroke Risk test to assess stroke risk in patients. The researchers want to tweak that test by incorporating an NfL assessment.
The researchers noticed the stroke group had higher levels of NfL than the healthy group.
"As an emergency physician, I see patients after they have experienced a stroke, and for some patients, the options for treating them at that time point are limited," Korley said. "If our findings hold true in other study populations, physicians could use this test to monitor patients and target stroke prevention treatments to the right at-risk people to hopefully help them avoid a stroke from ever happening."