The number of working age men and women struck down by strokes has increased sharply since the turn of the century, leaving thousands of people devastated by disability and loss of income.
Last year, 6,221 men aged between 40 and 54 were admitted to hospitals in England after a stroke, up by nearly 50 per cent in 15 years.
Among women, hospital admissions increased by a third to 4,604 in 2014. Overall the number of strokes occurring in working age people, aged 20 to 64, has increased by a quarter.
The Stroke Association, which compiled the figures from NHS data, said the increase was due to ever more unhealthy lifestyles – particularly rising rates of obesity.
Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is shut off. Most often this is the result of a blood clot, but can also be a result of a weakened blood vessel bursting. In both cases, high blood pressure is the major risk factor, and experts at the charity urged people to check theirs once a year.
Around 110,000 people of all ages suffer a stroke in England every year. One in four strokes is fatal and it is the third biggest cause of death in the UK.
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People who survive a stroke are often left with severe damage to the brain, affecting movement and speech. Many require months or years of rehabilitation to regain their independence and some are left disabled for life.
Once considered a disease of older people, poor diets and higher rates of obesity mean it is increasingly afflicting those of working age as well.
Jon Barrick, executive of the Stroke Association, said this came at a “huge cost” to the NHS, social care services, and to individuals and families through loss of income, and urged employers to do all they could to help stroke survivors get back to work.
“Having a stroke is bad enough, but being written off by your employer through a lack of understanding can be catastrophic,” he said.
“Businesses can play a crucial role in helping stroke survivors get back into the workplace and on the road to recovery.”
Strokes are estimated to cost the UK economy £9bn a year and loss of income, due to death or disability from stroke, costs individuals and families £1.3bn a year.
Dr Dale Webb, director of research and information at the Stroke Association said: “Half of all strokes could be avoided if high blood pressure was controlled. There are about five different lifestyle factors associated with high blood pressure: high levels of salt in the diet, being overweight, binge drinking, smoking and inactivity. We think those are the most likely reasons for the increases we have seen.”