A concerning trend is raising alarms in the medical community, driving awareness of a significant health risk for younger people: strokes. While the number of strokes in people ages 18 to 45 has been growing at a faster rate nationally than any other age group for the past few decades, the number of young adults having strokes around the world has nearly doubled over the past few years. While strokes have traditionally been associated with older adults, there is evidence to suggest that the incidence of strokes among younger people is increasing.
There are two types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. The biggest increase is being seen in ischemic strokes that result from artery-blocking blood clots that travel to the brain. Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke. Hemorrhagic strokes, which happen when a blood vessel in or near the brain ruptures, are far less common.
Several factors may contribute to this trend including the following:
- Birth Control Pills and Hormonal Factors: In some cases, the use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) may contribute to an increased risk of stroke, especially in combination with other risk factors such as smoking and hypertension.
- Unhealthy lifestyle choices: Sedentary lifestyles, poor dietary habits, and lack of physical activity can contribute to conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which are risk factors for strokes.
- High blood pressure: Hypertension is a significant risk factor for strokes. Young people with untreated or poorly managed high blood pressure may be at an increased risk.
- Smoking and substance abuse: Tobacco and illicit drug use, particularly among young adults, can contribute to the development of strokes. Smoking, in particular, is a well-established risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
- Increased stress levels: High levels of chronic stress can contribute to the development of various health issues, including hypertension, which is a risk factor for strokes.
- Poor diet: Diets high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, a condition where blood vessels become narrow and can lead to strokes.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions that were once considered rare in younger populations, such as autoimmune diseases and clotting disorders, may increase the risk of strokes.
- Genetic factors: While less common, there may be genetic factors that predispose some individuals to stroke at a younger age.
- Increased detection and awareness: Advances in medical technology and increased awareness about the signs and symptoms of stroke may lead to better detection and diagnosis in younger individuals.
- Digital device overuse: Excessive use of digital devices and sedentary behaviour associated with prolonged screen time can lead to health problems such as obesity and cardiovascular disease.
- Underlying heart conditions: Certain heart conditions, such as atrial fibrillation, may increase the risk of stroke, and these conditions can be present in younger individuals.
- Obesity: The rising prevalence of obesity in younger populations is a significant risk factor for stroke. Obesity is often linked to other conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, which further increase the risk of stroke.
It’s important to note that these factors often interact, and individuals may have multiple risk factors simultaneously. Early detection, lifestyle modifications, and proper medical management are essential in addressing and reducing the risk of strokes in younger populations. If someone is experiencing symptoms of a stroke, such as sudden numbness, confusion, difficulty speaking, or severe headache, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention.