Researchers who examined the incidence of stroke in a large US population suggest they are becoming more common in younger adults. They write about their findings in the 10 October online issue of Neurology.

First author Brett Kissela is from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. He told the press the reason for the trend could be an increase in risk factors like diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.

But another reason, Kissela suggests, could be improved diagnosis, such as through increased use of MRI scans.

Nevertheless, he says “the rising trend found in our study is of great concern for public health because strokes in younger people translate to greater lifetime disability.”

For the study, the researchers looked at occurrences of first ever strokes in people aged from 20 to 54 in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region over three separate, one-year periods. One period was between July 1993 and July 1994, and the other two were during the period 1999 to 2005.

They found that the average age of a person experiencing a first ever stroke fell from 71 in the 1993-1994 period to 69 in the year 2005.

“Regression modeling showed a significant change over time (p = 0.002), characterized as a shift to younger strokes in 2005 compared with earlier study periods,” write the researchers.

Their analysis shows that strokes among the under-55s grew from around 13% in 1993-1994 to 19% in 2005.

Among African-American younger adults (aged 20 to 54), the stroke rate went up from 83 strokes per 100,000 people in 1993-1994 to 128 in 2005.

Among Caucasian younger adults, it went up from 26 strokes per 100,000 people in 1993-1994 to 48 in 2005.

Kissela said the good news is that by changing lifestyle and diet and doing more exercise, people can reduce their risk of stroke.

“However, given the increase in stroke among those younger than 55, younger adults should see a doctor regularly to monitor their overall health and risk for stroke and heart disease,” he urges.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD