The proportion of strokes suffered by people of working age has soared by more than 25% in just seven years.
Statistics from a National Stroke Audit published by the Irish Heart Foundation and the HSE’s National Stroke Programme found there has been a 26% increase in the proportion of strokes among under-65s — the equivalent of more than 300 extra strokes every year.
Although more women die from stroke across all age groups, the figures show that men account for almost three-quarters of strokes across the younger age categories.
This contrasts with audit results that show a reduction in overall stroke mortality of over 25% and of almost 50% in the rate of severe disability.
The research shows that 40% of the younger stroke sufferers are smokers — more than twice the national smoking rate — while the rate of people already diagnosed with high blood pressure is also high. Similar results in Britain have primarily been ascribed to increasing sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles.
Speaking at the Irish Heart Foundation’s annual two-day conference, stroke research fellow with the HSE National Stroke Programme Dr Paul McElwaine said it isn’t yet clear why more younger people are suffering strokes, but that a number of preventable factors are contributors.
Dr McElwaine said “it is clear that preventable risk factors such as smoking and high blood pressure are significant contributors”.
“This raises the distinct possibility that whilst people in older age groups are acting on advice and information campaigns to minimise their risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease generally, middle-aged men are not, perhaps because they do not understand their level of risk,” he said.
The head of advocacy with the Irish Heart Foundation, Chris Macey, said the statistics show that strokes can no longer be seen as only a disease which hits older people.
“People of working age are now accounting for one in four of all strokes and the rate is growing rapidly in spite of Ireland’s ageing population. It appears that middle-aged men, in particular, are not heeding the health messages around prevention of stroke and we must remedy this, starting with prevention awareness campaigns specifically targeted at them,” he said.
The Irish Heart Foundation has called for significant new investment in prevention programmes, along with health and community care services to cater for younger stroke survivors.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved