Long considered a disease of the old, strokes are increasingly affecting younger adults. Americans, ages 18 to 55, now account for 10 to 15 percent of all stroke patients. Considering nearly 800,000 people a year in the U.S. have a stroke, that’s an average of 100,000 adults under age 55.
Better diagnostics explain some of that increase, as does more public awareness about the telltale signs of stroke. One worrisome development, however, is that health problems that increase stroke risk — obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol — are becoming more prevalent among younger adults.
As with older adults, getting immediate treatment can make the difference between a complete or strong recovery and the risk of lifelong disabilities, or death. Tremendous advances have been made in stroke treatment, but they are time-sensitive, meaning the stroke must be quickly identified and the patient treated immediately at a comprehensive stroke center.
Most strokes are ischemic, caused by a blockage in a vessel that supplies blood to the brain. Patients may receive clot-busting drugs called thrombolytics, which help restore blood flow to the damaged area of the brain and can reverse or improve symptoms, or have the clot endovascularly removed. The other type is a hemorrhagic stroke, in which a blood vessel in or near the brain ruptures or leaks. Patients are administered medications to reduce blood pressure and slow bleeding.
Other symptoms include a severe headache with no known cause; numbness in the face, arm or leg; or sudden confusion.
While younger stroke victims have lower mortality rates, they can suffer profound deficits. That can mean loss of productivity and diminished physical and mental well-being. Depression and memory loss are considered “downstream complications” of stroke.
As with many health issues, prevention is the best medicine:
- If you smoke, stop. Smokers are three times more likely to have a stroke than nonsmokers. Get help quitting smoking >
- Manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.
- Lower your salt intake and avoid processed foods.
- Ask your nutritionist and health care professional about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet.
- Exercise in some form at least 20-30 minutes, three to four times a week.
- Avoid excessive alcohol use, more than one drink per day for females or two drinks per day for males, and drug use.
If you show symptoms of stroke, call 911. Do not risk your quality of life.
Dr. Arandela and Atlantic Medical Group Neurology Comprehensive Stroke Center are part of Atlantic Medical Group, a multispecialty network of health care clinicians. She can be reached at 908-522-5545.