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Younger People Are Having Strokes – Are You at Risk?

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The recent high profile death of actor Luke Perry from a stroke at age 52 left many people shocked and wondering, wasn’t he too young for a stroke?

Although stroke is often thought of as occurring in the elderly, the National Stroke Association reports that about 15 percent of ischemic strokes the most common type occur in adults under the age of 65. Additionally, the group reports that the number of young adults who are admitted to the hospital because of a stroke has increased 44 percent in the last 10 years. 

“We’ve started to see a younger population of people in their 20s and 30s who have had a stroke, which is unusual,” said Sarah Vincent, stroke coordinator at Samaritan Health Services. “It’s so important for people to be aware of the symptoms of a stroke because you just don’t expect to see it in younger adults, but it’s happening.”

A stroke occurs when blood cannot reach a portion of the brain. It can be caused by a clot in the brain, called ischemic stroke, or by bleeding in the brain, called hemorrhagic stroke. 

Incidence in Younger Adults

Pinpointing major trends for why younger adults are having more strokes has been elusive. An article published in Vascular Health and Risk Management found that causes ran the gamut from rare syndromes to blood disorders, genetic conditions or infections. These conditions may be undiagnosed before a stroke according to Vincent, like in the case of a congenital heart defect or arrhythmia. In such cases, the heart can be more susceptible to creating clots that travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Younger adults may also have a condition that is well managed but with the risk of stroke as an extremely rare side effect, like in the case of migraines.

“There are known risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and obesity that can contribute to a stroke,” said Vincent. “Self-care and lifestyle changes can lower your risk of a stroke by about 80 percent. Genetics is the other portion that you can’t control.”

Know the Signs

Knowing the signs and symptoms, and calling 9-1-1 immediately can help ensure you or a loved one have the best possible outcome in case of a stroke.

“It’s very, very important to seek attention as soon as possible and call an ambulance,” said Vincent. “The ambulance alerts the hospital so we can have the stroke team in place and deliver care much faster than if a family member brings you to the emergency department.”

The symptoms of stroke come on suddenly. Use the acronym BeFast to recognize them and act quickly:

Balance issues or dizziness

Eyes, vision changes 

Trouble seeing out of one or both eyes.

Facial droop

Arm not working properly

Unable to hold a pencil or fork, drink from a cup or lift arm.

Slurred speech

Time

Note the time symptoms start, seek help and call 9-1-1 immediately. Clot dissolving medication only works if given within three to four hours of when symptoms begin.

Lower Your Risk

Living a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk for a stroke, no matter what your age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following lifestyle choices:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Try a Mediterranean-style diet like the DASH diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be physically active.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Limit alcohol.

The Samaritan Stroke Services team of specialists includes emergency room doctors, neurologists, nurses, speech language specialists and many others who work together to stop and reverse the damaging effects of a stroke. Learn more about Samaritan Stroke Services.

Read the story of a Samaritan patient who acted fast when she recognized the signs of a stroke.