Because stroke is thought of as an older person's disease, younger people fell through the cracks, Kissela says.
"If we don't reverse this trend, there will be many years of productive life lost. Not just years of work lost; it can be as simple as a young mother no longer being able to hold her baby," he tells WebMD.
So what's the answer?
First, younger people need to be aware that they too are at risk, Kissela says.
Also, younger people tend to skip an annual exam if they’re feeling OK, he says. "Everyone should be checked regularly for treatable problems."
Finally, you've heard it before, but Kissela says it's worth repeating: The best way to ward off strokes, heart attacks, and a host of other diseases is to eat right, exercise, and refrain from smoking.
For the study, the researchers examined data from five counties in the greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky region, which includes about 1.3 million people.
But the results apply to the entire U.S. population, says American Stroke Association spokesman Brain Silver, MD, a neurologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Silver tells WebMD that he and colleagues nationwide are treating "a lot more patients in their 30s and 40s."
Plus, rates of obesity and diabetes, the factors fueling the disturbing trend, are increasing throughout the country, Kissela says.