When the news broke that Luke Perry, the heartthrob star of 90s show Beverly Hills, 90210, had died of a stroke, it briefly felt like another terribly sad but all too common celebrity death announcement.

But then you do a double take: Perry was just 52. He wasn't overweight, and he'd never been a known heavy drinker or drug taker. Then Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, 32, revealed last month she had a life-threatening stroke when she was 24.

There is evidence to suggest strokes are increasing among younger people. According to a recent US study published in the health journal JAMA Neurology, the rate of people under the age of 45 hospitalised due to strokes is rising. At the same time, stroke hospitalisation is declining among the older age groups.

Public Health England recently found that between 2007 and 2016, the average age for a man to have his first stroke has dropped from 71 to 68, and for women it fell from 75 to 73. Over the same period, the number of first-time strokes suffered by 40 to 69-year-olds rose from 33 per cent to 38 per cent.


In New Zealand, about a quarter of all strokes occur in people under the age of 65. About 40 children have a stroke every year. While many cases of stroke are hereditary or caused by pre-existing health conditions studies show that our modern lifestyles are playing a part.

Rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and alcohol consumption — all known risk factors for stroke — are rising and at the same time we're becoming more sedentary than ever (another stroke risk factor).

Actor Luke Perry died after a stroke aged 52. Photo / AP
Actor Luke Perry died after a stroke aged 52. Photo / AP

Things like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight and eating unhealthy foods can damage your blood vessels, increase your blood pressure and make your blood more likely to clot.

"We predict that with increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and sedentary lifestyles, the number of strokes across the UK is likely to rise by almost half (44 per cent) in the next 20 years," said Alexis Kolodziej, deputy director of policy and influencing at the UK's Stroke Association.

Some of the risk factors are specific to women. High levels of oestrogen — the female hormone can make your blood more likely to clot. And during pregnancy, conditions like pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes can raise the risk of a stroke. Other theories include contraception use.

Signs of stroke

• Can the person smile? Has their face fallen on one side?

• Can the person raise both arms and keep them there?

• Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say? Is their speech slurred?

• If you see any of these three signs, it's time to call 111.