A Growing Number of Millennials Are Having Strokes

by Mia Mercado

Having a stroke is likely not a health concern at the top of many twentysomethings' minds. However, a new analysis from Scientific American looks into the shocking statistic that shows a growing number of millennials are having strokes in the United States. According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which looked at data across a nine-year span, there was a 32 percent increase in strokes among women ages 18 to 34 and a 15 percent increase among men of the same age.

Older adults still make up the majority of people hospitalized for strokes. According to a 2009 report from the Center for Disease Control, 66 percent of stroke victims are age 65 and older. However, the overall stroke numbers have decreased in recent years. So, this spike in strokes among young adults is significant because it seems to buck current trends. This increase among young people is especially concerning given the long-term effects of having a stroke. In addition to its immediate physical and economic impacts, having a stroke early in life could lead to having another stroke years later that is stronger or even fatal.

“There has been mounting evidence from different studies suggesting that even though the incidence and mortality of stroke is on the decline, the rates may not be dropping quite as much — and even [may be] increasing — among younger populations,” Ralph Sacco, president of the American Academy of Neurology, told Scientific American. Sacco says they are still not completely clear why this spike is happening but suggest other health factors like diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, and drug use could be contributing causes.

Where you live seems to be linked to disparities in this statistical trend. Scientific American’s analysis revealed that this increase in strokes among young people seems to be happening at more significant rates in certain locations. Millennials in the West and Midwest experienced a greater increase stroke rates than millennials in other regions across the country. Between 2003 and 2012, strokes increased 75 percent among young adults in the West. The same is true for 34 percent of people ages 18 to 34 in the Midwest.

This shows a different trend than when you look at stroke statistics as a whole. Overall, rates are highest in the southeastern United States. While the number of young adults who had strokes over this time period is the highest in the South, that number remained fairly constant. Millennials in the South didn’t see the same increase in stroke rate as those in the West or Midwest.

Urban areas also saw a greater increase in stroke rate than rural areas. Researchers suggest pollution could be a factor as past studies have found links between strokes and long-term exposure to polluted air. However, those numbers could also be inflated because due to lack of health care access in rural areas. People who live in those areas may only have access to health care if they travel to urban areas.

Researchers also looked into whether early detection may play a part in this increase but found no answers there. According to Brett Kissela, one of the head researchers for the study, better technology for detecting strokes could have played a part in the number of strokes detected. However, the stroke rates among millennials seems to rise independently of that. Kissela also suggested drug use as a likely factor in this increase.

While this new research may not be the most reassuring, it is certainly beneficial. As Scientific American states, looking at these statistics among different populations can help researchers identify trends early on and work to find ways to prevent them. Thus, helping to create a healthier future for everyone.