Ischemic Infarction in Young Adults: A Review for Radiologists

Radiographics. 2019 Oct;39(6):1629-1648. doi: 10.1148/rg.2019190033.


Ischemic strokes in young adults are devastatingly debilitating and increasingly frequent. Stroke remains the leading cause of serious disability in the United States. The consequences of this familiar disease in this atypical age group are especially detrimental and long lasting. Ischemic stroke in young adults is now emerging as a public health issue, one in which radiologists can play a key role. The incidence of ischemic infarction in young adults has risen over the past couple of decades. Increased public awareness, increased use of MRI and angiography, and more accurate diagnosis may in part explain the increased detection of stroke in young adults. The increased prevalence of stroke risk factors in young adults (especially sedentary lifestyle and hypertension) may also contribute. However, compared with older adults, young adults have fewer ischemic infarcts related to the standard cardiovascular risk factors and large- or small-vessel disease. Instead, their infarcts most commonly result from cardioembolic disease and other demonstrated causes (ie, dissection). Thus, radiologists must expand their differential diagnoses to appropriately diagnose ischemic strokes and identify their causes in the young adult population. From the more frequent cardioembolism and dissection to the less common vasculitis, drug-related, CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy), moyamoya, and hypercoagulable state-related infarcts, this article covers a wide breadth of causes and imaging findings of ischemic stroke in young adults. ©RSNA, 2019.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Angiography
  • Brain Infarction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Infarction / etiology
  • Brain Ischemia / complications
  • Brain Ischemia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Ischemia / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimaging* / methods
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed