Here's Why Young People May Be Having Strokes More Often
Causes of stroke in young people versus causes of stroke in older people
Having a stroke is typically thought of as something that happens to older people, and it is true that stroke risk increases with age.
According to the American Heart Association, approximately 10% to 15% of all strokes occur in adults aged 18 to 50 years. Moreover, studies indicate that the number of younger people having strokes is on the rise.
This troubling trend has prompted public health advocates to sound an alarm.
Stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability for Americans. Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States suffer from a stroke.
Another sobering stroke statistic is that the death rate for stroke has increased from 38.8 per 100,000 in 2020 to 41.1 per 100,000 in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Sometimes referred to as a brain attack, a stroke occurs when something inhibits blood flow to part of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.
Roughly 85% of all strokes are known as “ischemic.” These occur when blood clots or other particles block the vessels that carry blood to the brain. The other less common type is called “hemorrhagic” stroke, which is caused by bleeding in or around the brain.
A stroke is very much a medical emergency, and prompt treatment is crucial. Every minute counts when it comes to stroke intervention. Prompt action can reduce brain damage and other complications.
The acronym “BE FAST” is often used by the medical community to help people recognize some of the main symptoms of a stroke:
- “B’’ is for balance lost
- “E’’ is for eyesight changes
- “F’’ is for face drooping
- “A’’ is for arm weakness
- “S’’ is for speech difficulty
- “T’’ is a reminder that it’s time to call 911
Younger people and strokes
Stroke remains much more common among older adults and the chance of having a stroke nearly doubles every 10 years after age 55, according to the CDC.
However, younger people are not immune to strokes. This fact has become more evident over the past decade in particular.
Experts think younger people are having more strokes because more young people suffer from obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
The CDC says about 1 in 7 strokes now involve those ages 15 to 49. The American Heart Association reports that stroke rates and hospitalizations have increased by more than 40% among younger adults in the past several decades. Meanwhile, stroke rates have not increased – at least to that degree -- for the general population.
Why is this?
To understand this dichotomy, it helps to know there are both controllable and uncontrollable causes of stroke. Age is the main uncontrollable factor. The longer we are alive, the more chronic health conditions we are likely to acquire. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cardiovascular problems, and high cholesterol levels tend to increase as the decades go by and these conditions can lead to a stroke.
Also, as we get older, our arteries naturally become narrower and harden. They are also more likely to become clogged with fatty material.
Genetics, family history, race, and ethnicity are additional factors we cannot control. In the United States, stroke occurs more often in Black people, Native Americans, and Hispanic adults than in white adults.
When it comes to younger people and stroke, experts believe controllable factors are at play in the rising numbers. They point to the rise in obesity, prediabetes, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance in younger population.
According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents, ages 2-19, was 19.7% in 2020 and affected about 14.7 million. Research also indicates the obesity rates for this particular population climbed from this already alarming rate before the COVID-19 pandemic to 22% in late 2021.
Experts fear the rising number of obese youth could mean millennials will continue to suffer more strokes than their forebears did at the same age. Suffice to say, young people would benefit from controlling modifiable risk factors when it comes to stroke prevention. That means making good lifestyle choices and starting to do so at a young age.
The American Stroke Association/American Heart Association provides the following recommendations for lessening the chances of experiencing a stroke:
- Manage blood pressure
- Control cholesterol
- Reduce blood sugar
- Get active
- Eat better
- Lose weight
- Stop smoking
Learn more about neurologist Julia Deyeva, MD