HCN News & Notes

Strokes in Young People on the Rise; May is National Stroke Awareness Month 

SPRINGFIELD — You don’t have to be 60 to have your first stroke. 
“Over the past 10 years, there’s been a 44% increase in young adults being admitted to the hospital for strokes,” said Dr. Rajiv Padmanabhan, neurologist, Department of Neurology, Baystate Health. “Today, one in seven strokes occur in adolescent and young adults between the ages of 15-49.”   
According to Padmanabhan, many of the risk factors for a stroke in younger adults are the same as older adults — smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, drug and alcohol abuse, and obesity. 
There are other conditions that can increase the risk of strokes in young people. 
“Less often, strokes in younger people are caused by conditions, some inherited, but many are not,” said Padmanabhan. “For example, one in four of all people have small holes in the walls of their heart. Called patent foramen ovale, or PFOs, these holes can occasionally allow a clot to pass from the heart to the brain and lead to a stroke. For many young stroke victims, PFO may be identified as the potential cause of a stroke.” 
Clotting disorders less often can lead to a stroke in people of any age. 
“Some disorders rarely run in a family, while others simply develop,” he said. “Either way, if the condition causes your blood to clot more easily, the risk of stroke increases even at a young age.” 
Another cause of strokes in young adults is dissection, or tearing, of the blood vessels in the neck. 
“While certain medical conditions can cause tears, they’re most often related to trauma to the neck, often by young people engaged in sports or other physical activities,” said Padmanabhan. 
“In these instances, while stroke symptoms can be similar, there could be head or neck pain in addition, and it is important to get help immediately. There’s no ‘walking off’ a stroke,” he added. 
While some risk factors are simply out of your control, there are still plenty of things you can do to minimize others. 
Even simple lifestyle changes can have big benefits, including: 
• Exercise: 30-60 minutes of moderate daily activity (think a brisk walk, riding a stationary bike or water aerobics) can help with high blood pressure, excess weight, and stress 
• Eat heart healthy: reducing the amount of salt and saturated fats in your diet can help control high blood pressure (the leading risk factor for stroke and heart attack) and lower cholesterol. 
• Quit smoking: smokers are twice as likely to die from a stroke than non-smokers. That’s because smoking can cause the arteries to narrow which, in turn, increases the likelihood of blood clots that can lead to a stroke. 
Research indicates that 10% of all ischemic strokes (the most common type of stroke) now occur in adults younger than age 50. But because many younger adults may not readily recognize the symptoms in themselves or other younger adults, they often delay getting care. 
The consequences of any delay can be devastating. 
“Every minute, approximately 2 million brain cells die in an untreated stroke,” said Padmanabhan. “The more time that passes, the more likely the chance of brain injury, permanent disability, even death.” 
If you or someone else exhibits signs of a stroke, call an ambulance immediately. An ambulance will ensure you are taken to the closest medical facility that can handle a potential stroke. 
The BE FAST guide below may help you recognize if someone is having a stroke and direct you toward action: 
• Balance: a sudden loss of balance or coordination. 
• Eyes: sudden changes in vision including loss of vision in one or both eyes, or double vision. 
• Face: sudden weakness or drooping on one side of the face. 
• Arms: sudden weakness in one arm or leg. 
• Speech: sudden slurred speech or difficulty speaking or understanding words. 
• Time: Call 911 quickly if someone is experiencing any of these symptoms. 
In addition, a severe, sudden headache that is unlike any other headache you’ve ever experienced could also be a sign of a stroke. 
If you or someone else is showing any of these signs of a stroke — no matter what age — call 911 immediately and go to the hospital in an ambulance. 
Each year, the Acute Stroke Team at Baystate Medical Center cares for more than 1,600 patients who have experienced a stroke. That’s more than any other hospital in Western Mass. 
For more information on Baystate Health and its stroke services, visit baystatehealth.org/stroke