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When stroke strikes at a younger age

Bryn Mawr Hospital March 22, 2016 General Wellness

For most young adults, the risk of stroke seems decades away. But stroke is a real and potentially fatal event that can affect adults of all ages. And, according to recent research, it is.

In a February 2014 study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, research found that 10 percent of strokes occurred in adults ages 18–50.

These findings were supplemented by a July 2014 study from The Journal of the American Medical Association, which evaluated more than 14,000 participants from 1987–2011 and found that, while stroke rates dropped among adults over 65, they remained steady for those younger than 65.

“It’s not uncommon for young adults to feel invincible when it comes to their health, but ignoring your stroke risk can have debilitating and potentially fatal consequences,” says Christoper Reid, MD, neurologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital. “We have to change the conversation about stroke from being something that affects an aging population to something that affects every population.”

Young adults’ unique risk factors

Although young adults have the same risk factors for stroke as older adults, including diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure and cholesterol, they’re more prone to also have the following risk factors:

  • Recreational tobacco, alcohol, and drug use: Young people are more likely to use drugs, and may also more frequently use alcohol or tobacco
  • Birth control: Women who take birth control pills are at a higher risk for blood clots and ischemic stroke. This risk is also higher if they are smokers.
  • Genetic history: Congenital heart defects, blood disorders, and other genetic conditions, like sickle cell anemia, can make younger adults more at risk for stroke if they are not detected and treated early

Fortunately, many of these risk factors are within your control. Taking preventative measures like quitting tobacco and drug use, limiting alcohol intake, exercising, and eating a healthy diet will help control your stroke risk and benefit your overall health.

If you’re a woman, talk to your doctor about alternative options for birth control, and whether or not an oral contraceptive is right for you, given your other stroke risk factors. If you’re concerned about genetic health issues, talk to your health care provider about testing options.

Recognize a stroke FAST

Even with the best prevention, stroke is still a possibility at any age. To familiarize yourself with the signs of stroke, just remember: FAST.

“F.A.S.T stands for Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to call 911,” explains Dr. Reid. “It’s a simple way to remember the symptoms of stroke and the importance of acting quickly.”

And remember that these symptoms may not always present together. If you’re feeling dizzy, having trouble speaking, or your vision is blurry, call for emergency help immediately.

“Don’t be afraid to call for help, or be taken to the emergency department and find out that it isn’t a stroke,” says Dr. Reid. “You know your body best. Be cautious. If something doesn’t feel right, call for help.”

The Main Line Health Stroke Program provides a comprehensive continuum of high-quality stroke care that includes community education, assessment and stroke-prevention efforts, early identification and acute-treatment strategies, rehabilitation, and secondary-stroke prevention efforts. Learn more about our stroke services on our website.