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A new CDC study finds people under 65 are increasingly at risk for having a stroke. Westend61/Getty Images
  • Strokes are increasing among young adults, according to a new report from the CDC.
  • Adults between the ages of 45-64 saw a 15% increase in the prevalence of stroke.
  • Individuals with less than a high school education also experienced a significant increase in stroke prevalence.

The number of strokes occurring in younger people is on the rise, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC report finds that for people under age 65 the risk of stroke has been growing over the last decade. This is in contrast with older Americans. While Americans 65 and older still have the highest prevalence of stroke overall, the year-over-year incidence of stroke has remained flat.

For younger adults, the overall risk remains relatively low, but that risk has grown in recent years. The increasing prevalence of stroke has been paralleled by increases in both obesity and high blood pressure in the same age groups. These conditions are both linked to an increased risk of stroke.

“This report is concerning because in the younger population, the stroke rates are going up. And they’ve also noted that the rates of obesity and hypertension have been increasing in younger folks. That’s a bad sign,” Gregory W. Albers, MD, Director of the Stanford Stroke Center at Stanford Medical Center, told Healthline. Albers wasn’t affiliated with the report.

Prevalence among people of certain racial and ethnic groups, geographic regions, and lower education status are also stark reminders of disparities in stroke prevention and education that continue to persist.

Comparing self-reported health data from 2011-2013 and 2020-2022, researchers at the CDC found that the prevalence of stroke grew by nearly 8%. However, that growth was not dispersed evenly among all age, sex, and socioeconomic groups.

Young adults in particular, saw outsized increases in stroke. Among those aged 18-44 years old there was a 14.6% increase in stroke prevalence; for adults in the 45-64 category, it increased by 15.7%.

Age is a major risk factor for stroke, and the average age of a stroke is when an individual is in their 70s, which makes the CDC’s latest report that younger adults are experiencing strokes all the more disconcerting.

Overall prevalence of stroke among young adults in both age categories (0.9% for the 18-44 group and 3.8% for the 45-64) is still lower than that of those 65 and older (7.7%). However, the stroke rate among older Americans has leveled off, whereas it is continuing to grow for younger adults, particularly those in midlife.

The national prevalence of self-reported stroke is 2.9%.

While there is no clear single culprit for the rise in the number of strokes among the young adult demographic, compounding risk factors like obesity and high blood pressure are likely playing a role.

Between 1999-2000 and 2017-2018, the number of people with high blood pressure rose by more than 6% among adults aged 45-64, according to the new CDC report.

“When you look at every epidemiological study across the board, every continent on this planet, every demographic, the thing that jumps out as a stroke risk factor more than any other factor is high blood pressure,” said Matthew S. Schrag, MD, PhD, a Vascular Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He wasn’t affiliated with the report.

The report also noted some key findings based on race and ethnicity, geography, and education level.

Stroke is most prevalent among American Indian/Alaska Native (5.3%), followed by Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (4.4%) and Black adults (4.3%). Whereas it is lowest among Asian adults (1.5%). Over the surveillance period, stroke prevalence increased among Black (7.8%), White (7.2%), and Hispanic (16.1%) adults.

Adults with less than a high school education saw the single largest increase in stroke prevalence of any other groups: 18.2%

“Folks who are more educated tend to be more aware of the importance of hypertension control, even though it doesn’t cause symptoms. It’s not unusual to see that more educated populations have better access to care, better insurance, better coverage, and can afford their medication. So, it’s not a surprise to me,” said Albers.

Ten states, predominantly in the south, also saw increased stroke prevalence. This region of the south has become known as “the stroke belt” — a cluster of states with higher stroke mortality and the rest of the United States.

“This prevalence data still seems to point at a very significant increase in what we call ‘the stroke belt.’ There is an asymmetry in this country of the distribution of strokes geographically,” said Schrag.

Omoye Imoisili, MD, a Researcher in the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the CDC, and author of the report, told Healthline there are myriad health and lifestyle changes that can help you prevent stroke:

“Decrease your stroke risk by taking control of your health. Prevention steps and strategies include healthy habits you can do on your own, and also with support of a healthcare team. These include choosing healthy food and drinks, keeping a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity, not smoking, limiting alcohol, and controlling blood pressure,” she said.

The prevalence of stroke has increased for young adults (18-44) and mid-life (45-64), but not older adults (65 and older) over the past decade.

A rise in risk factors among adults under 65, including obesity and hypertension, are likely part of the problem.

You can mitigate your stroke risk through actionable lifestyle changes including controlling high blood pressure, exercising, and stopping smoking.