Think You Have to be Old to Have a Stroke? Think Again.

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Strokes have increased among younger adults: are you at risk?

If you’re like many young adults, you haven’t given much thought to your risk for neurological issues like stroke. But about one in seven strokes happen to those under the age of 50 and as young as 15. This number has been on the rise since 1995, as more young people today exhibit risk factors associated with “brain attacks.”

“Having a stroke is more about risk factors than age,” said Dr. Ralph Sacco, an internationally-renowned stroke expert at the University of Miami Health System and current president of the American Academy of Neurology. “If you don’t start exercising, eating right, and controlling your weight at a young age, you will end up with conditions like high blood pressure and type II diabetes that put you at higher risk for stroke.”

He is concerned that while we saw a steady decline in stroke through 2010, some alarming trends are making it creep back up and at younger ages. “The obesity epidemic is very troubling, as is the increase in type II diabetes in overweight, poorly conditioned children. The CDC is showing an increase in the rate of stroke deaths in many states, including Florida.”

What puts you at risk?

Sacco says there are effective medications to treat three of the risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type II diabetes, but lifestyle is as important. According to the American Heart Association, one in three children is overweight or obese. Activity levels have declined, and we eat too few fruits and vegetables, too many fast and fatty foods and too much sodium, a major risk factor for high blood pressure.

The risk factors for stroke amongst adolescents and young adults are the same as those for older adults. The issue is that young people today exhibit these risk factors in higher numbers and they don’t think of themselves as being at risk for conditions they might associate with old age. Those risks include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco use
  • Migraine headaches with aura
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Pregnancy, particularly in the final month and postpartum

Stroke may also be caused by rare congenital heart defects and injuries to the head or neck that can lead to a tear or dissection in an artery going to the brain.

Lower your risk for stroke by exercising, eating well, not smoking and limiting your alcohol consumption. Have regular medical check-ups and get conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type II diabetes under control.

Don’t dismiss the signs

If you assume you’re not at risk for stroke, you might not even recognize the signs as it’s happening. Sacco says to think FAST:

F = Face: drooping or sagging on one side

A = Arm: weakness on one side of the body

S = Speech: slurred or difficulty getting words out

T = Time: Call 911 quickly and seek urgent attention.

A stroke might also cause double-vision and, in the case of a hemorrhagic stroke, a sudden severe headache.

Don’t hesitate to call 911. Minutes matter and every minute takes you father away from a remarkable recovery. A stroke can have a devastating effect on your quality of life and future productivity, especially at a young age.