A worldwide study is showing that there are more young people having strokes than ever. Shutterstock / Feng Yu

Strokes more common, especially among the young

An international study published in The Lancet today shows stroke is becoming more common and affecting more young people.

There has been a 25% increase in the number of stroke cases among people aged 20 to 64 years over the last 20 years. The amount of illness, disability and premature death from stroke is expected to more than double by 2030.

Valery Feigin, a professor of epidemiology and neurology, led the international team of researchers that looked at data on stroke from around the world for 1990, 2005 and 2010. He said the figures were affected by the ageing global population but there was evidence a growing number of young people and children were being affected by stroke.

The rate of increase in stroke prevalence was similar in developing and high-income countries. Clinical professor of neurology, Graeme Hankey, said the figures in high income countries may be influenced by government public health intervention.

But the story is very different in the developing world. Hankey said the growing incidence of stroke in poor countries could be explained by urbanisation leading to the “adoption of a western style lifestyle, which is high in saturated fats.” Higher smoking levels were also a factor.

Hankey said strokes were affecting younger people more because of their changing risk factor profile: “We’re seeing young people with obesity and diabetes.” Illicit drug use among young people was also a contributor.

He suggested health education was best way to start preventing strokes. “I have lots of patients come to me with a stroke, who think they’re behaving well from a lifestyle point of view, but they’re not,” he said.

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