Suffering a stroke is devastating at any age, but for young adults it is catastrophic. A stroke is simply caused by decreased blood flow to the brain. In older adults the most frequent cause is a blood clot that forms inside the heart or a blood vessel, which breaks loose and travels to the brain – this is caused an ischaemic stroke. These are more common, but a stroke can affect anyone of any age – it is one of those indiscriminate phenomenons that can come out of nowhere. But there are risk factors, and therefore, ways to limit those risks.
Even though the overall rate of stroke is decreasing, studies have found that it is increasing for young and middle-aged people, those between 20 and 54 years of age. So why is this the case – and is there anything we can do about it?
Cardiogenic causes account for more strokes in young adults. These causes include rheumatoid heart disease, heart valve abnormalities and being born with a hole in your heart – called a patent foramen ovale. Other factors that have been linked to an increased risk of stroke at a younger age include; migraines, pregnancy, taking the birth control pill and smoking. Obesity is a big one. As the population becomes increasingly obese, the incidence of stroke in young people grows – and the correlation is not a coincidence. Obesity increases the lifetime risk of stroke because being overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – all of which can contribute to an increased stroke risk at any age.
Some of the prevention strategies for stroke at any age include:
- Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight
- A healthy and balanced diet – eat vegetables, fruit and whole grains and foods that are low in saturated fat
- Controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol
- Avoiding drugs, smoking and excessive alcohol
One of the main reasons that stroke is so devastating in younger people is that it can mean a lifetime of recovery and loss of many productive years. About 15-30% of people have a stroke that leads to long-term disability. The good news, however, is that people who suffer stroke at age 30 have a better rate of recovery than someone of 80 because they have better brain plasticity. Dealing with strokes in younger people requires a different approach to treatment and management because you need to look for different causes.The key is to identify these underlying causes and reduce these risk factors.
If you think someone is suffering a stroke never forget the acronym FAST:
F = face drooping
A = arm weakness
S = speech difficulty
T = time is of the essence
Call the emergency services immediately as this may help to reduce the morbidity in someone who has suffered a stroke. Awareness is vital. You may think you are too young for a stroke, but unfortunately, this is not the case. Knowing the warning signs and acting accordingly can reduce the chance of long-term disability and improve recovery rates.