According to the National Stroke Association, about 15% of ischemic strokes nationwide occur in people under the age of 65. The percentage and number of strokes in younger people, particularly between the ages of 20 and 54, have significantly grown in recent decades. And while genetics can be a factor in younger-aged strokes, lifestyle changes could decrease stroke risk by about 80%.
Concerning trends in a Cincinnati study
An important study was published in the NIH National Library of Medicine that compared populations of first-ever stroke patients age 20 or over in 1993/94, 1999, and 2005, looking at age, race, and gender. In most categories, blacks and women were more likely to have a stroke than whites and men. But the study also found a shocking increase in strokes in the younger age cohorts and a decrease in strokes in older patients. Because of this, the average age of first stroke victims decreased from 71.2 in 1993/94 to 69.2 in 2005.
The study reviewed strokes in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region. The percentage of first-ever strokes in the under-55 group increased from 12.9% in 1993/94 to 18.6% in 2005 (a case increase of 73%), with the 20-44 age group increasing from 4.1% to 6.4% (a case increase of 60%).
While the Cincinnati population is somewhat different from the national average, a similar trend of increased stroke incidence in younger patients has been seen nationally.
Stroke factors among younger populations
In three random-digit phone studies in Cincinnati as well as National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), data show that stroke risk factors are increasing among the younger population. In particular, there is an increasing prevalence of diabetes and obesity in younger age groups, two very powerful risk factors for stroke.
According to the Cincinnati and NHANES studies, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, obesity, and current smoking all increased in the general population over 10 years. These factors also increased among younger stroke patients since 1993/94.
In 2005, over 52% of first-time stroke patients aged 20-54 had hypertension, nearly 44% were obese, and nearly 46% smoked. About 20% had diabetes and 18% had high cholesterol. The lowest risk factor in the 20-to-54-aged stroke population of Cincinnati was coronary heart disease, at 12% of stroke patients.
Furthermore, the use of street drugs among stroke patients increased from 0.6% in 1993/94 to 5.9% in 2005. Expectedly, this abuse was found primarily in the younger age groups: 23% of the aged 20-44 stroke patients and 21% of the aged 45-54 patients used street drugs, compared to only 2.2% of those 55 and older. Drug abuse is more likely to cause hemorrhagic stroke and therefore accounts for only a small number of the increased stroke incidents since nearly 70% of strokes in patients aged 20-54 are ischemic.
What can be done
While stroke incidence seems to be slightly declining in the senior population, strokes among those 20 to 54 are on the rise. It may be that health efforts directed at the elderly to draw attention to stroke warning signs and encourage them to make lifestyle changes are being effective. However, little attention has been placed on encouraging young people to decrease their risk of stroke, since there is a stereotype that strokes are for “old people.” Clearly, this is not an accurate generalization.
More effort should be made by health organizations and doctors to educate the public and their own patients to make lifestyle changes to decrease their risk of stroke. Awareness of their vulnerability may help younger people make the necessary changes as they realize they are not immune to strokes – and no young person wants to consider spending some of his or her best years struggling to relearn how to walk or talk.
As people with these factors begin exercise programs and diets to reverse some of the damage to their bodies and decrease their risk of stroke, an important safeguard could be to wear a stroke-detecting device such as a Neuralert wristband so that they can have that extra level of confidence and an early-warning signal if a stroke does begin to come on. Our state-of-the-art, AI-driven technology is packaged in wristbands that look like smartwatches and can detect warning signs of a stroke within minutes. Ask your doctor about adding Neuralert’s Stroke Detection wristbands to your health program.