STROKE – a condition traditionally associated with old age – is increasingly affecting young and middle-aged people across the world, including Ireland.
A new global study shows worldwide there is "a startling 25pc increase in the number of stroke cases among people aged 20 to 64 years over the last 20 years" according to the research in 'The Lancet' medical journal.
Strokes in this age group now make up 31pc of the total number of strokes, compared to 25pc before 1990, said the analysis from the Global and Regional Burden of Stroke in 1990-2010 study.
The overall amount of disability and illness and premature death caused by stroke is projected to more than double worldwide by 2030, the study led by the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Sciences at AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand, has revealed.
The higher chance of stroke in younger age groups is believed to be due to people having risk factors like obesity and diabetes at a younger age.
Recreational drugs and alcohol abuse are also factors.
"Our findings show that in general high-income countries – as defined by the World Health Organisation on the basis of national income per person – are faring better than low and middle-income countries which now carry the greater burden of stroke.
"The low and middle-income countries account for more than two thirds of new strokes in 2010 and over half of stroke deaths. Over the past 20 years the age-standardised stroke incidence – the number of new strokes – has fallen by 12pc, the number of premature deaths by 37pc, and illness and disability related to stroke by 36pc.
"The number of people living with stroke in 2010 increased by around 31pc in comparison with 1990. So fewer people are having strokes and dying from strokes, but there are more people in the population who have had a stroke," he added.
"This probably reflects improved prevention of stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels and cigarette smoking, and improved stroke treatment and rehabilitation."
He said the data for Ireland in 2010 is similar "although it is better than the average high- income country."
The age-standardised stroke incidence rate for Ireland in 2010 was 20pc lower than in 1990, the rate of people dying with stroke halved over the 20-year period, and the prevalence – the proportion of people living with stroke – increased by 19pc.
"Although these findings are reassuring, as the population ages and increases in size, so the absolute number of people with stroke increases.
"The number of new strokes – rather than the stroke rate – increased by 11pc in Ireland between 1990 and 2010. Our study also showed a worrying increase in stroke in young people aged 20-64 years.
"While this occurred mainly in low and middle-income countries, there was a similar trend in high-income countries."
He called for further studies to find out more about the causes of stroke in young adults and methods to prevent this condition which affects both young and old.