Research published by the Stroke Association highlights an alarming increase in the incidence of strokes among men and women, particularly in their 40s and 50s. Strokes have traditionally been regarded as a disease of old age but the Stroke Association's latest data reveal that an increasing number of men and women of working age are affected.
A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, starving the brain of oxygen and leading to death of the affected tissue. Depending on which part of the brain is affected, the effects can be devastating.
In the last 15 years there has been a huge increase in the number of people suffering strokes. There are now over 150,000 strokes in the UK every year, with 1.2 million of the population living with the consequences. Those strokes severe enough to result in hospital admissions have also soared. Among men aged between 40 and 54, there has been an increase of almost 50% since 2000, with more than 6,200 hospital admissions in 2014. Over 4,600 women in that age group were admitted to hospital with strokes in 2014, a third more than in 2000. The research also suggests strokes are occurring increasingly in those in their 20s and 30s.
Behind the bare statistics lies a combination of contributing factors. The overall population has increased in size and changes to the criteria for hospital admissions for strokes are also a contributing factor. The trend, however, is of grave concern and indicates that there is still a lack of sufficient understanding of the risks to health of a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and obesity.
Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence and personal injury team, said: "There are some positive aspects to the research in that changes to admission criteria and initiatives to raise public awareness have led to more patients seeking medical help at an early stage.
"The overall picture, however, is a troubling one and of concern both to public health and the public finances. The Stroke Association estimates the overall cost of strokes to the UK economy each year is around £9 billion.
“We know from clients whose risk factors, signs and symptoms were not recognised - or not acted on quickly enough - that the consequences of strokes can be devastating. They affect sufferers' ability to work and require considerable medical and social care, often for life. Many cannot access enough therapy to achieve an optimum recovery.
"We back the Stroke Association's calls for much greater public awareness that strokes do not just happen to the elderly and that changes to diet and lifestyle can reduce the risk of stroke in everyone. It is to their and the NHS's advantage to act to reduce the risks."