An alarming trend in the rise of strokes among young people has researchers and medical professionals, in a number of fields, worried. And for good reason.
Consider the case of a young 29-year-old woman who developed a crushing headache and weakness of her left arm, just a week after her son was born. She chalked it up to side effects of childbirth…
Fortunately for her, her mother knew better. After observing her daughter’s slurred speech, drooping face and the weakness in the left arm, she didn’t hesitate to call 911.
She recognized the signs of a stroke and saved her daughter’s life.
Stroke, the world’s second leading cause of death, and a main cause of disabilities in adults is commonly considered a health problem of the elderly. But this 29 yr old woman is just one in a growing group of young people showing signs of heart disease and experiencing strokes.
For stroke experts, it’s like the other shoe has dropped. They’re showing us that strokes among young people are here to stay unless we act.
They’ve known for a long time that this disease can strike people of any age, and the research in recent years has proven it.
A 2016 study of New Jersey hospitalizations, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that strokes more than doubled in people ages 35 to 39 between 1995 and 2014 and rose in groups up to age 55.
A 2017 study in the journal JAMA Neurology also showed increases in people ages 35 to 44 from 2003 to 2012.
There was a 42 percent increase in men and 30 percent increase in women, according to the analysis of stroke hospitalization records.
What makes strokes among young people even more astounding and concerning is that up to 80% of strokes are preventable.
But, the studies have offered some possible clues…
From 2004 to 2012 there was an increase in the number of people between the ages of 18-64 who had higher risks in three or more of the common risk factors for strokes:
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Narrowed Arteries (Atherosclerosis)
- Arrhythmia or Atrial Fibrillation
- Previous Stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack
Family History of Stroke
There are also risk factors that come about from lifestyle choices, such as:
Lack of Exercise
Consuming More Than 2 Alcoholic Drinks per Day
Carolyn Brockington, M.D., director of the Stroke Center at Mount Sinai in New York City, notes that hormones may lead to abnormal blood clotting in some women during pregnancy, after delivery, or in those taking hormone supplements, thus raising some women’s risk of stroke.
Birth defects such as holes in the heart or injuries that cause blood vessels to narrow also could lead to stroke among younger people.
Chicago resident Brady Johnson is a prime example.
He is an Air National Guardsman and marathon runner who was born with a blood vessel defect called “Arteriovenous Malformation” (AVM). which is a tangled web of malfunctioning blood vessels in the brain.
When he was 31, he started having severe headaches. He blamed them on the stress of a new job which involved relocating to a new city. When the headaches persisted, he sought medical attention.
After a brain scan, doctors recommended immediate surgery.
- The next day he had a stroke on the operating table as the AVM bled into his brain.
After being told at the rehabilitation center that he would never speak clearly, read, drive or have children, he said: “I did not think that it struck somebody who ran and was in shape.”
“I couldn’t understand how this stroke was going to rock the rest of my life like this.”
His “can do” attitude paved the way to recovery. He approached rehabilitation like basic training, he sang to improve his speech, trained his right side to mirror his left side and re-learned to walk.
Johnson eventually got married and retired, and he’s now a stay-at-home dad to his sons, ages 11 and 6. But he still struggles to use the right side of his body.
And sadly he now sees that ignoring his headaches for months probably contributed to his stroke.
As for the 29-year-old new mother, we started this topic with, she has now fully recovered but lives with anxiety about the possibility of another stroke. She cautions:
“I would have never thought it would be something that happened to me in my 20s. Don’t wait until tomorrow to go in if you don’t feel right today; it could happen to anybody.”
It’s become clear that more focused research is greatly needed, along with better brain scans, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI’s). But, as always, education is a key part of a change.
While we need better medical therapies, we cannot improve the risk factors without educating and securing the agreement of those at risk to make the proper lifestyle changes.
- Please have regular check-ups at your physician’s office.
- Report any “unusual” or new symptoms, no matter where they show up, immediately.
- Make sure to have blood tests and cardiac screening tests at least annually.
- Please stay current on developments in any medical area that could potentially impact your life. Resources are plentiful. If you need information, guidance, support, reach out.
Contact me by using the “Get In Touch” link on the top of every page, or visit the many resources listed under almost every article on this website for a variety of medical issues related to heart disease.
This miracle called “the heart” is your life. Respect its needs and it will reward you mightily.