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Strokes in Children and Young Adults on the Rise

Researchers Say Findings Should Be a Wake-Up Call for Lifestyle Improvements

Tracking Stroke Among Young People continued...

Risk factors for stroke were often found in the patients, George says. Nearly one in three patients 15 to 34 and over half of those 35 to 44 with ischemic stroke had high blood pressure.

About one in four of those 35 to 44 with ischemic strokes had diabetes. Tobacco use, obesity, and cholesterol problems were common. The risk factors, George says, are associated with the strokes.

She also found increases in alcohol abuse and drug abuse in some age brackets.

The findings should serve as a wake-up call for lifestyle improvement, George says. "Seeing this in a young population really underscores the need for adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyles from the time they are very young."

Obesity, Cholesterol Not Only Culprits

"The increasing incidence of [heart] disease risk factors in young patients is very concerning," says Lee Schwamm, MD. Schwamm is vice chair of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. He reviewed the findings but was not involved in the research.

Schwamm agrees it should serve as a wake-up call. Part of the increase, he says, could be due to more sophisticated medical technology. Better imaging technology, for instance, may help identify correctly more strokes in younger people.

While the risk factors studied are associated with stroke, he says that the traditional ones such as obesity and high cholesterol ''play their risks out over decades." As a result, they are unlikely to explain fully the increase, he says.

However, risk factors such as alcohol abuse and drug abuse could help explain the increase. Those risk factors can be linked with strokes in a much briefer time frame, he says.

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