Why More Young Adults Are Experiencing Strokes

I walked into my gym and was told that our trainer would not be able to lead our classes for a while. Her 40 year old husband had a stroke the day before and he was in the ICU. This was the 4th person under 40 in my friend circle who had a stroke in the past year. I’m 64 and expect to hear about friends my age being struck by illness and strokes. But every single stroke incident I have heard of recently has been a young person, including a 21 year old. It made me ask “What is going on? Is this unusual?” So I did a bit of deep dive on the subject and this is what I found.

Stroke rates in younger adults (under 50) have been increasing, while rates in older adults have shown different trends. Several sources have highlighted this trend. Here is some data to consider:

Increase in Stroke Rates Among Younger Adults

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Unfortunately, strokes in young and mid-aged adults are on the rise:

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The incidence of stroke among younger adults has been rising globally. In the U.S., the incidence of stroke for adults aged 20-44 increased from 17 per 100,000 in 1993 to 28 per 100,000 in 2015. 

This trend has continued, with recent studies indicating a significant rise in stroke rates among younger populations.

Specific Data

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  • CDC report highlighted a 14.6% increase in stroke prevalence among adults aged 18-44 and a 15.7% increase among those aged 45-64 between 2011-2013 and 2020-2022.
  • The Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Stroke Study reported a nearly 50% increase in the proportion of strokes among those aged 20-54 from 1993/1994 to 2005.
  • A study found that the incidence of ischemic stroke in young adults increased by 46% from 1998 to 2010.

Contributing Factors


The increase in stroke rates among younger adults is attributed to rising rates of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, physical inactivity, and substance abuse. The opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic have also been identified as potential contributing factors.

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Stroke rates among older adults have shown a more stable or declining trend. For instance, the incidence of stroke among adults aged 65 and older has remained consistent or even decreased in some studies.

Specific Data

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  • A study found that the incidence rate of stroke in people aged 70 and older has been declining, with fewer strokes and stroke-related deaths in this age group.
  • The CDC reported that while stroke prevalence among older adults remained consistent, it increased significantly among younger adults.
  • The American Heart Association noted that stroke incidence among older adults (age 50 and older) decreased nationwide yet increased in younger adults (ages 15 to 49) in some geographic areas.

Contributing Factors

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The decline in stroke rates among older adults is often attributed to better management of risk factors such as hypertension and atrial fibrillation, as well as falling smoking rates.

How To tell If A Stroke Is Occurring

FAST. Stroke.
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Experiencing a stroke can vary significantly from person to person, but there are common symptoms and sensations that many individuals report. Here are some symptoms and sensations to watch out for:

Numbness or Weakness

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Many stroke survivors report sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body. This can affect the face, arm, or leg.

Difficulty Speaking or Understanding Speech

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Stroke can cause sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding what others are saying. This can manifest as slurred speech or an inability to find the right words.

Vision Problems

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Some individuals experience sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes. This can include blurred vision or complete vision loss.

Trouble Walking or Loss of Balance

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Stroke can lead to sudden dizziness, loss of balance, or difficulty walking. This can make it hard to stand or move without assistance.

Severe Headache

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A sudden, severe headache with no known cause is another common symptom. This headache can be intense and unlike any previous headaches experienced. 

Emotional and Cognitive Change

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Not all symptoms and changes are physical. Some are emotional and cognitive:

Confusion and Disorientation

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Many stroke survivors report feeling confused or disoriented during the stroke. This can include difficulty processing thoughts or understanding what is happening around them.

Panic and Fear

Confusion. Fear. Panic.
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The sudden onset of symptoms can cause feelings of panic and fear, especially if the individual is aware that they are having a stroke.

Survivor Stories

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Here are some reports from those who have survived a stroke.

Jill Bolte Taylor

doctor and patient.
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A neuroanatomist who experienced a stroke reported symptoms such as headache, loss of consciousness, poor balance, and paralysis on her right side. Her background in neurology helped her quickly identify the stroke and seek help. Her TED Talk: My Stroke of Insight has some of the highest views of any TED Talk to date with well over 8 million views.

You can read more about her and her amazing experience here.


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Jim described feeling extremely tired, unable to process thoughts, and experiencing everything in slow motion in this video. He also had difficulty understanding where his body was in space.


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A 28-year-old teacher who experienced slurred speech, dizziness, and loss of feeling on the left side of her body while teaching a lesson. Despite knowing the warning signs, she did not initially realize she was having a stroke. Her story can be viewed here.

 Importance of Acting FAST

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The acronym FAST is commonly used to help recognize the signs of a stroke and act quickly:

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Check if one side of the face droops.
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. See if one arm drifts downward.
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Listen for slurred or strange speech.
  • Time: If any of these signs are present, call emergency services immediately.

The Takeaway

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The medical community is seeing an increase in stroke rates in young adults, driven by lifestyle and health factors such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and substance abuse.

Stable or declining stroke rates are occurring in older adults, attributed to improved management of risk factors and better healthcare interventions.

These statistics highlight the need for targeted public health interventions for different age groups.

A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Recognizing the symptoms and acting quickly can significantly improve outcomes and reduce the risk of long-term disability or death. Each stroke experience is unique, but the common symptoms and emotional responses provide a framework for understanding what it feels like to have a stroke.

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  • Robin Jaffin

    As the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners, LLC through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone she has played a pivotal role in promoting dietary solutions for individuals with specific needs in the health and wellness industry as well as amplify the voices and experiences of women worldwide.

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