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Stroke (Young Adult)

Strokes can happen to anyone at any age, but those under 50 may need extra support to prevent them from happening again, aid in recovery, and assist with adapting to life after a stroke. 

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Stroke can happen at any age

Did you know that strokes can happen to anyone, no matter their age? Even younger adults and children are experiencing strokes more often these days. Whether you're in the middle of your career, starting a family, still in school, or haven't even been born yet, a stroke can affect you. If you've had a stroke and are under the age of 50, we are here to support you by identifying the causes of your stroke, helping you prevent future strokes, estimating your risk for recurring strokes and complications, and providing counseling for stroke survivorship. 

Remember, a stroke is a medical emergency. If you think you're experiencing a stroke call 911 and get to the emergency department right away.

Lester Leung, MD, Director, Comprehensive Stroke Center at Tufts Medical Center; Director, Stroke and Young Adults (SAYA) Program, and Adedayu Dansu, Stroke Coordinator, adult neurology, discussing brain scans, condition with patient.
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When a blood clot or fatty deposits block the blood supply or a blood vessel ruptures in the brain, it results in a stroke. The impact of a stroke varies for each individual and may not always be long-lasting.

  • Ischemic stroke: Blood clots that block arteries and travel to the brain, limiting oxygen and nutrients and killing brain cells. The majority of strokes in young people experience this type.
  • Intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke: Blood vessels leak or rupture, resulting in bleeding in the brain. This type of stroke is less common.
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA): A "ministroke" that causes a temporary decrease in blood supply to your brain.


We provide advanced testing that is tailored to each patient's symptoms, story, and health to determine the cause of your stroke. Our goal is to find the cause of your stroke so we can help you manage any associated issues throughout your life. Tests may include:



If you are a young adult who has had a stroke without a clear cause, you may be diagnosed with cryptogenic stroke. This type of stroke can result in permanent damage by depriving part of the brain of oxygen and nutrients. Young adults with stroke may have to manage persistent symptoms and neurological deficits for decades, unlike many other stroke sufferers whose symptoms may fade with time. We will help you reduce the risk of future strokes, manage any persistent symptoms, and provide surveillance and treatment for any late complications that may arise. We will coordinate with your primary care physician and other specialists to provide you with holistic care.

Post-stroke care + rehabilitation

Everyone's stroke recovery journey is unique. Some people may fully recover, while others may experience ongoing challenges. It's important to understand that healing can take weeks to months or even years.

We'll partner with you to help you minimize your risk of future strokes and manage ongoing symptoms, including:

On-going support

Our aim is to lend a helping hand to young adults who have undergone a stroke by providing personalized survivorship services. We understand that every individual's journey towards recovery is distinct, and we are committed to collaborating with you to help you either resume your daily routine or discover a new path that fills your life with joy. It's crucial to note that young adult stroke survivors are prone to various medical complications, which we are here to help you navigate through with empathy and compassion, including:

The risks are not the same for everyone and they may change over time due to treatment and lifestyle changes. Our aim is to help you understand and evaluate your health risks, develop and implement strategies to reduce those risks, and inspire you to live your life without fear and to the fullest.



What is a stroke?

A stroke is a brain, spinal cord or retinal injury related to dysfunction of the blood vessels supplying these parts of the central nervous system, resulting in permanent damage. When cells (neurons) or nerve fibers (axons) are injured, specific nervous system functions are impaired or lost: the ability to speak or comprehend others, the ability to move the face or limbs, the ability to see throughout one's vision and more.

A stroke is typically classified in one of two ways:

  1. Ischemic stroke (the majority of strokes): a blockage of a blood vessel supplying a specific portion of the brain, resulting in loss of oxygen and nutrient delivery to that area.
  2. Intracerebral hemorrhage: a rupture of a blood vessel supplying the brain, resulting in bleeding into the brain tissue.
What causes ischemic strokes in young adults?

Ischemic strokes typically have a single cause, but the reason can differ significantly from one person to the next. For younger adults, the causes of stroke are often less connected to prior medical problems. Some of these include:

  1. Patent foramen ovale – A small tunnel between two chambers of the heart, leading to the passage of a clot through the heart or a formation of a clot in the tunnel itself.
  2. Arterial dissection – A tear in the wall of a blood vessel in the head or neck, leading to obstruction of blood flow.
  3. Reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome – Abnormal, excess squeezing of the walls of blood vessels in the head.
  4. Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis – Clot formation in the blood vessels draining blood away from the head.
  5. Hypercoagulability – A change in the body's balance between clotting and bleeding, leading to excess clot formation.
  6. Vasculitis – A condition triggering an immune system attack on the blood vessels, leading to swelling of the blood vessel walls.
What causes intracerebral hemorrhages?

Intracerebral hemorrhages may have multiple contributing causes. These include:

  1. Hypertension – High blood pressure can break the walls of tiny arteries, causing bleeding in the brain.
  2. Cerebral amyloid angiopathy – With age, abnormal proteins, including amyloid, may deposit in the walls of arteries. These weaken the infrastructure of the arteries and make them more susceptible to injury and rupture.
  3. Medication-related – Some medications such as anticoagulants (e.g., Coumadin/warfarin) or antiplatelet drugs (e.g., aspirin, Plavix/clopidogrel) that are used to prevent ischemic stroke and treat heart conditions can exacerbate bleeding in the brain.
  4. Vascular malformations – Blood vessels can sometimes develop abnormally early in life (e.g., arteriovenous malformations, cavernous malformations) or change when exposed to conditions that damage blood vessels, such as hypertension and tobacco use (e.g., aneurysms). These are often more fragile than normal blood vessels and can rupture more easily.
  5. Other medical conditions – Some illnesses, such as liver disease, hemophilia and kidney disease, increase the risk of bleeding.
  6. Trauma – Physical injury from a fall or head strike can sometimes cause bleeding into the brain tissue (although this usually results in bleeding outside the brain tissue or on the scalp).
What is a cryptogenic stroke?

For stroke, sometimes the specific cause (or mechanism) is not determined after a comprehensive evaluation (including a careful history, examination and tests). In these cases, the stroke is deemed cryptogenic, and the stroke specialist will help guide you in determining the best course of action, even if there is no single, clear "right" answer.

How common is a stroke?

Stroke is the leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death in the United States. Stroke can affect people of any age, including babies, children, young adults, middle-aged adults and elderly adults.

Many strokes remain undiagnosed when individuals do not receive medical attention for their symptoms or are not recognized as stroke symptoms.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

Common stroke symptoms relate to loss of function in the brain, spinal cord or the eye's retina. These include:

  • Weakness of one side of the face (difficulty closing the eyes or moving the mouth)
  • Weakness of one side of the body (difficulty moving the arm or leg on one side)
  • Loss of sensation on one side of the face or body (numbness or tingling on one side)
  • Trouble with speaking (expressing thoughts in words)
  • Trouble with understanding others (comprehending spoken or written language)
  • Trouble with seeing (partial loss of vision in one or both eyes or double vision)
  • Trouble with coordination (moving the arms or legs appropriately)
  • Trouble with balance (resulting in falling to one side)

Most stroke symptoms develop suddenly, but they can sometimes be gradual or come and go. The symptoms may be mild or severe.

If you or a loved one ever experiences any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. An emergency medical team in an ambulance can call ahead to a hospital, allowing quicker treatment. Every minute an artery is blocked, 2 million brain cells die. Rapid treatment of a stroke can improve outcomes and save lives.


What are the risk factors for stroke?

Risk factors are conditions that contribute to specific causes (or mechanisms) of stroke. Some of these contribute to both ischemic stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage. Risk factors are important to identify and address to reduce the chances of having another stroke in the future. Stroke can be prevented!

Common risk factors for ischemic stroke in younger adults are:

  • Patent foramen ovale (a small tunnel between two chambers in the heart)
  • Injury to the neck or neck manipulation
  • Pregnancy
  • Migraine
  • Tobacco use
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Drug use (including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, etc.)

Common risk factors for intracerebral hemorrhage are:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Cerebral amyloid angiopathy
  • Blood-thinning medications (i.e., anticoagulants)
  • Vascular malformations (i.e., aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations, cavernous malformations)
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