Stroke is something that affects many of us, whether it’s happened to us personally or to someone we love, but oftentimes, the perception is that strokes can only happen to older people. That assumption is wrong.
Every year, about 795,000 people suffer a stroke in the United States, according to the Sanford Stroke Center, and while the majority of those people are over the age of 65, doctors say they've seen an uptick in the number of stroke cases in younger people.
Up to 10% of stroke victims in the U.S. are younger than 45, the Stroke Center reported in recent years.
“Most people think about stroke as a disease of older people,” said Dr. Neil Schwartz, a stroke and vascular neurologist. “It is true that stroke becomes more common as people age, but stroke can occur at any age.”
Schwartz, who works at the Stanford Stroke Center, said the symptoms don’t vary much from younger to older patients.
Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cigarette smoking are risks that can lead to atherosclerosis — a cholesterol-laden plaque that interferes with blood flow and hardens the arteries — which often causes stroke in older people, according to the Stroke Center. It should be noted that certain heart and blood conditions also can be factors.
When it comes to the younger age group, despite how healthy you might be, genetics can play a big part in your risk factors, along with inflammatory conditions, infections and drugs.
But there are still ways you can be proactive in stroke prevention.
- Work with doctors to evaluate if there could be some underlying disease. This is especially valid if you've had a close family member who had clots or a stroke.
- Engage in exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as foods that are low in saturated fat.
- Avoid alcohol, drugs and smoking.
- Be proactive in recognizing and controlling diabetes.
National Stroke Month is a great time to learn the signs of a stroke, which you should be aware of at all times, in all people.
Strokes can be fatal. There are, however, things you can do to help combat the effects that come afterward, if you are able to recognize the signs and act quickly.
Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke:
Other symptoms may include:
- Vision trouble
- Numbness in limbs
- Trouble walking
What you do after spotting these symptoms is critical, as well.
Because time is of the essence, if someone is experiencing stroke symptoms, it’s time to act fast.
People who are treated with blood thinners within 4.5 hours of symptoms have a greater chance of recovering without suffering major disabilities.
And even though a stroke can mean the loss of many productive years and a lifetime of recovery, the younger you are, the better the rate of recovery, experts say. That’s because of the brain's plasticity and its ability to adjust and learn new skills.
To many, a stroke may seem to be something that could never happen to us, but reconsider that thought.
“Throughout one’s lifetime, there’s a one in six chance of having a stroke, so everybody will be touched by stroke in some way,” Schwartz said.
This was first published in 2018. It has since been updated.