While most people don’t think the young suffer strokes, a recent study found that an increasing number of people between the ages of 25 and 44 are actually having strokes. The simple fact is the rate of people 25 to 44 hospitalized for an ischemic stroke, the most common type, increased by 44% but actually dropped for those over 65 during the 10-year period the researchers studied. There are, however, steps you can take at any age to lower your risk of stroke.
What is ischemic stroke?
An ischemic stroke happens when the arteries to the brain become narrowed or blocked, which in turn interrupts or reduces the flow of blood to the brain. The cause of that narrowing or blockage is a blood clot that has either formed in an artery that supplies blood to the brain or a clot that has formed elsewhere in the arterial system, broken free, and traveled to the arteries that supply blood to the brain. When the clot interrupts or reduces blood flow to the brain, the brain does not receive adequate oxygen and nutrients and brain cells die.
What are the risk factors for stroke?
For young people as well as older people, there are a number of factors that increase the risk of stroke, including:
- Being overweight or obese
- Being inactive
- High blood pressure and cholesterol
- Heart disease and defects
- Cigarette smoking
- Sleep apnea
- Family history of stroke
- Heavy alcohol use and binge drinking
- Use of certain illegal drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamines
Race and gender also affect stroke risk, with African Americans and men at higher risk.
As the number of younger people who are overweight, inactive, and have health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure and cholesterol has increased, their risk of stroke may also increase, researchers believe.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that younger people are often not aware what the symptoms of stroke are, so they delay seeking medical care, assuming that their symptoms are caused by other issues like migraine, exhaustion, or vertigo. In fact, one survey found that 73% of people under 45 said if they had symptoms that could be caused by a stroke, they would most likely wait to see if their symptoms improved. That can result in more serious or permanent disability, because the longer the brain is denied oxygen, the more damage occurs. More than 2 million brain cells die every minute that a stroke remains untreated, so waiting hours or even days before seeking diagnosis and treatment can have a tremendous impact.
Lower your risk and learn the symptoms
Making lifestyle changes such as losing weight, taking part in regular exercise, quitting smoking, getting adequate sleep, and not abusing alcohol or drugs can lower your risk of a stroke now and in the future. It’s also important to see your doctor and find out if you have risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol or diabetes. Because younger people often skip their annual physical, many aren’t aware they’re living with these conditions and they go untreated.
Knowing the symptoms of a stroke and seeking immediate medical care if you experience any of these symptoms is essential. The American Stroke Association created the acronym FAST to help people remember the signs of a stroke:
- Face drooping: Ask the person to smile and see if the smile is uneven.
- Arm weakness: Is one arm numb or weak? When both arms are raised, does one sink down?
- Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred or is the person suddenly incoherent?
- Time to call 911: If any of these symptoms occur, even if they go away, call 911 immediately.
Other symptoms of stroke include:
- Blurred or double vision or loss of vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden, severe headache
- Dizziness, trouble walking, loss of coordination
Talk with your doctor about your personal risk for stroke and the steps you can take to lower that risk and improve your overall cardiovascular health.