Most often, people believe a stroke happens when you are older.
According to the American Stroke Association (ASA), the likelihood of having a stroke increases with age, although people under the age of 65, including babies and children, can also have a stroke. (The death of actor Luke Perry in early March from complications of a stroke at the age of 52 was a sobering reminder.)
The American Stroke Association reported a 44 percent rise in the number of young adults hospitalized due to stroke over the past decade.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die.
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death, as well as the leading cause of disability, in the United States. It kills 140,000 Americans each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. Additionally, more than 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke annually. About 610,000 are first or new strokes; the rest, 185,000 – or one in four – have had a previous stroke.
Jerilyn Alexander, RN, Stroke/STEMI Coordinator with Trinity Health, said she has seen an increase in younger patients with stroke. So far, in 2019, the youngest patient that has presented at Trinity Health with a stroke was under 30 years old.
Between 2012 and 2018, the 46-65 age range has seen the largest increase, from 28 percent in 2012 to 34 percent in 2018. The 66-85 age range has also seen an increase, from 43 percent in 2012 to 48 percent in 2018. Ages 18-45 and 86-and-older have seen deceases, from 6 percent in 2012 to 4 percent in 2018, and 23 percent in 2012 to 13 percent in 2018, respectively.
“There are multiple varied reasons for the increase in the incidence in stroke in the younger population,” Alexander said. “We see it related to lifestyle, such as poor diet and inactivity. There is also an increase in the use of energy drinks which can cause a stroke, as well as illicit drug use. And we can also see strokes related to injuries.”
While a stroke has risk factors – such as age, family history, race, and gender – that can’t be controlled, there are some we can control:
• High blood pressure – Hypertension is the leading cause of stroke, the American Stroke Association said, and is the most significant controllable risk factor.
• Smoking – Nicotine and carbon monoxide, which is found in cigarettes, can damage the cardiovascular system, thus paving the way for a stroke, the ASA said.
• Diabetes – Diabetes mellitus is an independent risk factor for stroke.
• Diet – Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels; diets high in sodium can increase blood pressure; diets with high calories can lead to obesity.
• Physical inactivity
• High blood cholesterol
• Carotid artery disease
Alexander noted the volume of stroke patients overall has increased, “but I think it’s related to people being more aware.” She said there is a catch-22: Patients are recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke and acting on them appropriately; unfortunately, at the same time, stroke is still happening.
When it comes to recognizing the signs of a stroke, BE FAST:
B – Balance: Sudden changes in balance
E – Eyes: Sudden changes in vision, such as blurred vision or loss of vision
F – Face: Facial drooping
A – Arm: Can’t maintain arm elevation; starts to drift down
S – Speech: Slurred speech or difficulty getting the right words out
T – Time: Call 9-1-1
Alexander advises calling 9-1-1 and having the ambulance transport to the hospital, rather than driving yourself or having someone else drive you. “The ambulance can pre-notify the hospital and start medical treatment in the rig on the way to the hospital,” she said.