While stroke can occur at any age, the good news is that the rate of stroke in the United States overall is decreasing – especially among those 65 and older. The not-so-good news is that more and more younger people are having strokes. You’ve probably heard of celebrities who have died young from stroke, such as actor Luke Perry, director John Singleton and Minnesota Twins center fielder Anthony Kirby Puckett. Older people who remember the Three Stooges might be surprised to learn that “Curly” Howard died from stroke when he was just 48 years old.
Younger people suffering a stroke is nothing new – about 10-15% happen under age 45. But why is this number increasing? In 25-35% of young people who have stroke, the exact cause is not known. However, there are several lifestyle-related conditions that are also increasing in young people – and these conditions are known risk factors for stroke.
- High Blood Pressure
- Smoking — younger women who smoke while on oral birth control have a significantly higher risk of stroke
- High cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
Heart-related problems can also be a risk factor among the young, particularly arterial dissection, which is a tear in the thin surface area of large blood vessels in the neck that results in clot formation. This tear can happen because of injury, such as when playing sports or during chiropractic manipulation. Younger adults may also have certain blood clotting disorders that unfortunately go undiagnosed until after a stroke occurs.
Finally, substance abuse is a risk factor for stroke at any age. Methamphetamine and cocaine are especially notorious for constructing blood vessels which raises blood pressure, while at the same time increasing the blood’s tendency to clot. Alcohol abuse, especially binge-drinking, is also an important risk factor for stroke in people less than 45 years of age. Avoiding illicit drugs and using alcohol only in moderation is sound advice for avoiding stroke.
When a young person does have a stroke, there is both good news and bad news. The good news is younger people have a better chance of recovery than older people, especially if they seek medical care at the onset of symptoms. The main problem, though, is young people don’t often realize they are having a stroke. They think they are too young, and so will dismiss symptoms and delay seeking medical care or calling 911. When it comes to stroke, every minute is crucial in restoring blood flow to the brain.
It’s as important for young people to recognize the signs of stroke as it is for older people. The symptoms are the same, and using the acronym BE FAST is the best way to check for symptoms of stroke and to call 911 if any are present.
B – Balance. Stumbling, unusual clumsiness and loss of balance.
E – Eyes. Blurring or loss of vision in one or both eyes.
F – Face. The face might be drooping or numb. When trying to smile, the smile is uneven.
A – Arms. An arm may be weak or numb. When trying to lift both arms, one may drift downward.
S – Speech. Slurred speech, difficulty speaking, or confused speech. Repeating a simple sentence may be difficult.
T – Time. Make note of what time symptoms started and call 9-1-1 right away.
Another common symptom is a sudden and severe headache with no known cause, which may be caused by bleeding in the brain. Call 911 right away.
What can you do to avoid stroke while under the age of 45? The same principles apply as for older people: eat a healthy diet, avoid processed and salty foods, exercise and stay away from sugary beverages. Don’t smoke or vape – both habits significantly increase the risk of stroke in people of all ages.
Again, if you or someone close to you is experiencing symptoms of stroke – no matter what their age – call 9-1-1 immediately. To learn more about stroke, visit MedCenterHealth.org/stroke.