A team of researchers has found a sharp increase in the incidence of stroke in young adults, especially among the working professionals.
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 a role for work-related stress, low physical activity, and long working hours, each of which were more strongly associated with risk of stroke than heart attack.
The findings from the study published in the journal JAMA on the 'World Stroke Day 2022', which analysed the rate of new stroke cases in Oxfordshire in the UK over the last 20 years, reflect emerging evidence that young stroke is a growing problem in high-income countries.
"Establishing the importance of known risk factors in young stroke will help to raise general awareness of the need for better control. We also need better ways of identifying young people at high risk of stroke, as current risk models are based on predictors of stroke in older people," said Medical Research Foundation Fellow, Dr Linxin Li, from the University of Oxford.
Stroke is a major health problem that can have devastating consequences. It happens when the blood supply to the brain is cut off, causing the death of brain cells and dysfunction in one or more parts of the brain.
The restricted blood supply can be the result of an artery supplying blood to brain becoming blocked, a blood vessel rupturing causing a bleed inside the brain, or a brief reduction in the blood supply to the brain.
The traditional view is that vascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, play a minor role in young stroke, but recent studies have begun to contradict this view.
Dr Li's research focuses on multiple types of stroke, such as ischaemic strokes, caused by a blockage of arteries, 'mini-strokes' (transient ischaemic attacks) and bleeding in the brain (intracerebral haemorrhage and subarachnoid haemorrhage).
The researchers found that between 2002-2010 and 2010-2018, there was a 67 per cent increase in stroke incidence among younger adults (under 55 years), and a 15 per cent decrease among older adults (55 years or older).
A similar divergence in incidence was not found for other vascular events, such as heart attacks.
"Historically, we've thought of stroke as only affecting older adults, but studies like this suggest a growing problem in young adults," said Dr Angela Hind, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Foundation.
"Stroke in young adults can have a huge impact, often occurring when they are starting a family or already have young children to look after, and have yet to reach the peak of their careers. The economic, social and personal consequences can be devastating," Hind added.