8 Reasons Why Strokes Are Increasing in Younger Adults

  • Portrait of four friends having fun
    Think You’re Too Young To Have A Stroke?
    The March 2019 death of actor Luke Perry after a stroke at age 52 alarmed fans, in part because many people associate stroke with older people. In fact, the number of strokes in older adults is decreasing, but it’s on the rise in younger people. Up to 15% of strokes hit people below the age of 45, and they strike men and women equally. Having a stroke when you’re young means many years of dealing with its potentially devastating effects during what should be your most productive years. The good news is once you’re aware of the risk factors for stroke, you can take steps now to reduce them.

  • Measuring Blood Pressure
    High Blood Pressure
    Some 20% of people between the ages of 20 and 39 have high blood pressure—the number one risk factor for stroke. Because it has no symptoms, high blood pressure can be a stealth killer, so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Your doctor can prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure, and you can incorporate lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, avoiding sugary drinks, and limiting alcohol. Experts often recommend the “DASH” diet—dietary approaches to stopping hypertension—which focuses on lowering sodium and eating vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy. It also includes moderate amounts of fish, whole grains, and nuts, which contain nutrients that can help lower blood pressure.


  • Cholesterol
    High Cholesterol
    Among younger people who have had a stroke, high cholesterol was the most common shared trait. Though it can be hereditary, high cholesterol can also be the result of eating too much saturated fat (often found in highly processed food), as well as being overweight and inactive. You can help control your numbers by eating more fruits, vegetables and lean protein, and by staying active or doing moderate exercise. There are medicines that lower cholesterol, but doctors are still learning about their long-term effects on young people, so talk with your provider about potential risks and benefits.


  • Teenage girl taking cigarette from friend cigarette pack, close-up
    Smoking
    As the National Institutes of Health puts it, the more you smoke, the more you stroke. Smoking remains the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, more than 30 years after it was declared a major health risk. It is directly tied to as many 50% of the strokes in young adults. If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor for advice on quitting and to get information about smoking cessation programs near you.


  • Happy boy
    Obesity
    More body mass equals a higher risk for stroke. By some estimates, obesity has doubled in younger kids and quadrupled in teens over the past 30 years; more than one-third of people between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight or obese. In one study, obesity was a factor that increased the odds of having a stroke by 57%. Talk to your doctor about weight loss options and healthy lifestyle habits to help reduce your risk.


  • Female Pediatrician Talking with Little Patient
    Diabetes
    People with diabetes--both type 1 and type 2—are at two to four times the risk of stroke compared to the general population. Experts estimate more than 200,000 people under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes (and many more are undiagnosed), which increases the risk of complications while recovering from a stroke. As part of your diabetes management, talk with your doctor about specific steps that help reduce your stroke risk.


  • Bottles of Liquor at a Bar
    Drugs and Alcohol
    Young people who drink a lot of alcohol on a regular basis have a significantly higher risk of stroke than young people who are moderate drinkers or non-drinkers. Researchers are still studying the connection, but alcohol does increase the chance of developing high blood pressure and blocked arteries, which can lead to stroke. Using illegal street drugs is another known risk factor for stroke in people under 35.


  • Caucasian doctor listening to heartbeat of patient
    Coronary Artery Disease
    More than one-half of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have at least one coronary heart disease risk factor, putting them at risk for a blocked artery that can lead to stroke. It’s critical to know if you are at risk for CAD, and if you are, to take action to keep it from getting worse. About 80% of all heart disease and stroke is preventable through diet and lifestyle, so if you’re young, you can start establishing habits now that will keep you healthy in the long run.


8 Reasons Why Strokes Are Increasing in Younger Adults

About The Author

Nancy LeBrun is an Emmy- and Peabody award-winning writer and producer who has been writing about health and wellness for more than five years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 2
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