Think you’re too young for a stroke?

Think again. Strokes are on the increase among young adults, and you may be at risk.

My friend just became a statistic. At age 42, he died from complications suffered during a stroke. His life was too precious for me let it slip by without learning from it. He was so much more: educator, friend, brother and son.

When we think of someone having a stroke, we tend to think of it only happening to older people. However, experts say an increasing number of strokes are occurring in individuals between 18 and 50 years old.

Stroke occurs in one of two situations, either a blood clot in the brain or bleeding into/around the brain.

“The most common form of stroke in young adults is a dissection, or tear, of the inside of an artery leading to or inside the brain,” said Shervin R. Dashti, M.D., Ph.D., neurosurgeon and co-director of cerebrovascular/endovascular neurosurgery for Norton Neuroscience Institute. “However, with increased incidence of obesity, smoking and high blood pressure, the number of young adults suffering from an ischemic stroke (caused by a blood clot) or hemorrhagic stroke (caused by bleeding) also is increasing.”

Obesity among young adults in their 20s and 30s continues to increase and currently is at 37.7 percent nationally, putting this age group at greater risk for a number of serious health issues. It increases the risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, all of which are major risk factors for stroke.

Ischemic stroke, which accounts for about 87 percent of all strokes, occurs when a blood vessel in the neck or brain becomes blocked, depriving brain cells of oxygen-rich blood flow.

“For every minute your brain is deprived of oxygen you lose 2 million brain cells,” Dr. Dashti said. “And for every hour of that time, your brain ages approximately 3.6 years. This cannot be reversed or fixed.”

The ramifications of a stroke on anyone can be devastating and include loss of mobility, cognitive processing, inability to care for themselves or others, or even death.

The friend I lost to stroke had been fighting with his blood pressure. He had made several lifestyle changes over the past 10 years, but his blood pressure was one he never got under control. And with his family’s history of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, the proverbial deck was stacked against him.

High blood pressure is the No. 1 controllable risk factor for all types of stroke. By working with your primary care physician and managing blood pressure, even adults in their 20s and 30s can reduce their risk for stroke.

As the old adage says, “prevention is the best medicine.” According to Dr. Dashti, young adults must take action to form a strategy with their primary care physician for reducing their risk for stroke:

  • Start controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol at an early age.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Recognize and control diabetes.
  • Know your numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.
  • Work with your doctor to identify underlying health issues.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet low in saturated fat and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

I learned a lot from my friend and now, unfortunately, I’ve learned even more about keeping myself healthy, because of him.

If someone around you is showing signs of a stroke, act F.A.S.T. and call 911 immediately.

F.A.S.T. stands for:

  • ace: Ask the person to smile. Warning sign – one side of the face does not move as well as the other.
  • rms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Warning sign – one arm does not move, or one arm drifts.
  • peech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Warning sign – the person slurs words or cannot speak.
  • ime: Find out when the person was last seen well. Advantage – more advanced treatment options may be available if medical care is received within three hours of the start of symptoms.

F.A.S.T. will detect about 80 percent of strokes. Additional signs and symptoms to watch for may include sudden onset of:

  • Vision changes in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness or trouble with balance
  • Leg weakness
  • The worst headache of your life

Do you know your risk for having a stroke? Take a quick online stroke risk assessment to find out.


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