A stroke can develop in a person of any age. Younger adults may experience a stroke due to having obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. There are also other risk factors that increase a young adult’s risk of having a stroke.

Stroke is a potentially debilitating medical condition that occurs when there is a blocked blood vessel in the brain or it bursts, hindering blood flow to the brain and leading to brain cell death.

Strokes are more common in older adults. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that a person can have a stroke at any age. They say that 1 in 7 strokes occurs in people aged 15–49.

Research from 2021 reveals that 10–15% of strokes occur in adults aged 18–50.

This article discusses the causes, risk factors, prevention methods, and outlook for stroke in younger adults.

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There are two leading causes of stroke:

  • Blocked blood supply: When an artery supplying blood to an area of the brain has a blockage, it leads to an ischemic stroke. Ischemic stroke in young adults is far less common than in older adults. The main cause of ischemic stroke is atherosclerosis, a condition where fatty deposits known as plaque line and plug the walls of a blood vessel that supplies the brain.
  • Burst blood vessel: A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel inside the brain bursts, causing blood to leak into spaces around the brain. Common causes of hemorrhagic stroke include:
    • uncontrolled high blood pressure
    • weakened blood vessels
    • inflammation of the blood vessels, known as vasculitis
    • a bulge or weak spot in the wall of a brain blood vessel that bursts, which doctors call a ruptured aneurysm

The CDC suggest that more younger people are experiencing strokes as a result of having:


The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders states that obesity can increase the risk of having a stroke.

It also notes that according to information from 2017 and 2018, severe obesity affects:

  • 12% of adults aged 40–59
  • 9% of adults aged 20–39
  • 6% of adults aged 60 and older

However, a 2021 study found that obesity was not an independent risk factor for ischemic stroke. Instead, the risk depended more on the complications of obesity, such as high blood pressure.

High blood pressure

When circulating blood exerts high pressure against the walls of the arteries, this can burst or block the arteries that supply blood to the brain.

High blood pressure has associations with other risk factors for ischemic stroke, such as atherosclerosis.

A 2019 article in the American Heart Association Journals notes that high blood pressure affects 1 in 8 people aged 20–40.

The authors suggest that this figure is likely to increase as a result of lifestyle behaviors and the lowering of diagnostic measures for hypertension.


People with diabetes are about two times more likely to develop a stroke than people without diabetes.

Diabetes is a health condition that causes high sugar levels in the blood. Over time, high sugar levels can damage blood vessels in different parts of the body, including the brain, leading to a stroke.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. This often develops as a result of physical inactivity, having excess body weight, and other modifiable risk factors.

Diabetes is beginning to become more prevalent in younger people. The WHO notes that although type 2 diabetes was usually only seen in adults, it is becoming more common in children.

Other risk factors that can affect young adults include:

  • viral infections, such as HIV
  • cardiovascular conditions, such as high cholesterol and cardiomyopathy, which is a decrease in heart muscle function
  • use of contraceptives that contain estrogen
  • pregnancy
  • medical conditions that can cause inflammation, such as lupus
  • genetics and family history of stroke
  • use of certain medications, such as blood thinners, which can increase the risk of bleeding in the brain
  • heavy alcohol consumption and tobacco use
  • physical inactivity
  • diets containing high amounts of refined sugars and saturated fats

Smoking, including breathing secondhand smoke, can also increase the risk of stroke. It does this by:

  • raising the level of triglycerides in the blood
  • lowering HDL cholesterol
  • making the blood more likely to clot
  • damaging the cells that line a person’s blood vessels
  • causing the blood vessels to thicken or narrow
  • increasing plaque buildup

A 2018 study recruited men aged 15–49 within 3 years of having a stroke. The researchers found that the risk of stroke was higher according to the number of cigarettes they smoked daily.

Younger adults can help to prevent stroke by:

  • exercising regularly
  • managing medical conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases
  • monitoring their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels
  • achieving and maintaining a healthy BMI
  • limiting alcohol consumption
  • quitting smoking, if applicable
  • eating a healthy diet

Stroke survival rates have increased over the years due to more research on cardiovascular diseases and advancements in medical technologies.

However, not every stroke survivor recovers immediately. Many people who survive stroke may need long-term support and rehabilitation to improve their overall health.

Notably, the outlook for stroke varies from person to person. It depends on factors such as how quickly a person gets medical attention, the severity of their symptoms, and other underlying medical conditions.

Both young and older adults can quickly spot the warning signs of stroke by looking out for certain signs. People can remember these by using the acronym FAST:

  • F — face: Check if one side of the person’s face droops, especially when smiling.
  • A — arms: If the arms drop down after a person raises them, it can be a stroke.
  • S — speech: Stroke often affects speech, causing slurred speech.
  • T — time: If a person experiences all these symptoms, someone should write down the time they started and call 911 immediately.

Other signs of stroke include:

  • sudden confusion and difficulty understanding speech
  • vision problems
  • trouble walking
  • loss of balance
  • dizziness
  • sudden severe headaches
Learn more

Learn more about stroke symptoms and how to identify them:

A young adult should contact a doctor at the first sign of a stroke.

Young adults should also speak with a healthcare professional about how to prevent stroke, especially if they have a higher risk of stroke due to family history or current health conditions.

Although strokes are more common in older adults, they can affect a person at any age.

Strokes may be becoming more common in younger adults due to higher levels of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

While the outlook for the condition has improved over the years and can be better in younger adults, some people may need long-term support and personalized care before full recovery — and not everyone will recover fully.

Urgent treatment is important for stroke survival and also plays a role in how quickly a person can recover.