A common misconception about stroke is that it mainly affects older people, but a stroke can affect anyone of any age.
A stroke changes your life in an instant, with two-thirds of people who survive a stroke finding themselves living with a disability.
Having a stroke should not be a major milestone in a young adult's life. Yet, one in four strokes happen in people of working age. As a result, young stroke survivors are having cherished milestones and planned futures stolen from them, while learning to adapt to a new life affected by a stroke.
Are strokes in young people on the rise?
Looking at SSNAP data, focusing on stroke patients under the age of 60, we saw that in 2013/14, the percentage of stroke patients in this age group was 14.2%. In the latest release (2022/23), this figure has increased to 15.9%
In addition, the Oxford Vascular Study, funded by the Medical Research Foundation, includes data from over 94,000 people registered with GP practices in Oxfordshire over a 20-year period. The study found that between 2002-2010 and 2010-2018, there was a 67% increase in stroke incidence among younger adults aged under 55, and a 15% decrease among older adults.
Among young people who had a stroke, there was a significant increase in the proportion who were in more skilled occupations, particularly for professional or managerial jobs. This could suggest work-related stress, low physical activity, and long working hours, were associated with risk of stroke.
Even though the numbers are rising, if you're under 55, your chances of having a stroke are still very low. There is a common misconception that strokes only happen to older people, but they can affect anyone, at any age.
Why are they on the rise?
We are not yet sure what is driving an increase in incidence of stroke in younger adults, but it is important that doctors don’t dismiss the warning symptoms and that risk factors are treated.
These risk factors include certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, diabetes and high cholesterol. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight and eating unhealthy foods can also increase our risk of stroke.
In addition, if a close relative has had a stroke, your risk is likely to be higher. Ethnicity can be a risk factor, with strokes happening more often in people who are black or from South Asian families. Women have some specific risk factors, such as pregnancy and using the combined contraceptive pill.
What causes strokes in young people?
We don’t have evidence of specific stroke causes in younger adults, but we do know that stroke can strike anyone, at any time.
Certain medical conditions can increase your risk of stroke. High blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for stroke, while diabetes, atrial fibrillation and high cholesterol also increase the risk.
The way we live has a big impact on our stroke risk. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight and eating unhealthy foods can damage your blood vessels, increase your blood pressure and make your blood more likely to clot.
If a close relative (parent, grandparent, brother or sister) has had a stroke, your risk is likely to be higher. Ethnicity can be a risk factor, with strokes happening more often in people who are black or from South Asian families. Women have some specific risk factors, such as pregnancy and using the combined contraceptive pill.
For reference: We are currently funding research which may be helpful in preventing strokes in younger adults. Many strokes can be explained by risk factors like high blood pressure or atrial fibrillation. However, about 1 in 3 ischaemic strokes are cryptogenic - that is, they have no obvious cause. In people under 50, this number rises to 1 in 2.
A possible risk factor that might explain some of these cryptogenic strokes is long-term inflammation caused by inflammatory diseases like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Many inflammatory diseases, including asthma and inflammatory bowel disease, are most likely to start in our teens and twenties.
Is it easier to recover from a stroke when you're younger?
Every stroke is different, so each person’s recovery is unique to them and there is no set pattern for recovering from a stroke. The quickest recovery takes place in the days and weeks after a stroke, but recovery can continue for months and years after a stroke.