Many people assume that strokes only happen to older people – making it easier to push off the risk until a later point. The fact is, about 10-15% of all strokes occur in people under age 50. And as that number continues to rise, your risk of stroke may be closer than you thought.
Alex Chebl, M.D., a stroke and interventional neurologist with Henry Ford Health, explains why stroke is often mistaken as a disease that only affects older patients.
“Stroke and cardiovascular disease are related to age,” says Dr. Chebl. “As you get older, your risk for these conditions increases, often due to the age-related health conditions.”
Some of these conditions include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Atrial fibrillation
- Post menopause
- Neurological diseases
But that doesn’t mean that only older people with prior health conditions are impacted.
How Stroke Affects People Under 50
Since younger adults don’t necessarily think about their risk for stroke, they often aren’t aware of how quickly action needs to be taken to prevent brain damage.
“Younger people often don’t recognize stroke symptoms due to a lack of awareness, but even if they know about stroke, since stroke affects your brain, it can impact your ability to make decisions in the moment,” says Dr. Chebl. “Further, young adults often have different lifestyle factors that attribute to their risk of stroke compared to age-related diseases.”
These lifestyle factors can include:
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Smoking cigarettes
- Hard drug or marijuana use
- Alcohol consumption
- Regularly consuming artificial sweeteners
Adults aren’t the only ones that have stroke risks either, unfortunately. Kids and babies can have strokes as well, though they aren’t caused for the same reasons as adults.
“Typically, these strokes, though rare, are caused by blood clotting, congenital heart disease or an inherited disorder such as sickle cell disease,” says Dr. Chebl.
How Age Impacts Stroke Recovery
The reality is, an untreated stroke can be fatal. There are many factors that contribute to your chances of surviving a stroke, regardless of your age:
- Location of the stroke in your brain
- Severity of the stroke
- Your brain function before the stroke
- How quickly you get to a hospital when having a stroke (every minute that passes relates to brain function lost)
In some cases, younger adults have a better chance of recovering from stroke than older patients.
“Brain plasticity is your brain’s ability to ‘rewire’ to make necessary connections while avoiding the diseased area of the brain,” says Dr. Chebl. “Older brains have a lower capacity for recovering from stroke due to decreased brain plasticity.” Additionally, older patients are at higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia after having a stroke due to the impact it has on the brain.
Fortunately, modern medicine can offer some comfort. One of the main treatment options for stroke is a mechanical thrombectomy, a minimally invasive procedure that can clear the blockage that caused the stroke. While it is effective for all age groups, younger patients have a better time recovering than older adults.
When To Talk With Your Doctor About Stroke
If you have a family history of a stroke or heart attack under the age of 45, you may be at risk for a premature heart attack or stroke. This is something you should regularly discuss with your doctor.
“Regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks can help control damage or hardening in your arteries, which is the major cause of stroke and heart attacks,” says Dr. Chebl. “If your doctor does notice high levels, they can talk with you to make sure you understand your risk. You might consider monitoring your blood pressure levels at home to continue to reduce your risk for complications.”
Stroke continues to be one of the leading causes of death in the United States and globally. Not only can a stroke be devastating to your health, but it can dramatically increase your risk of other health conditions such as a heart attack. Follow these best practices for lessening the severity of a stroke, or preventing a stroke from happening all together:
- Know your numbers. Elevations in your cholesterol or blood pressure levels significantly increase your risk, especially for hypertension, one of the biggest causes of stroke.
- Eat a healthy diet. Choose well-rounded food options while working to eliminate processed, fried or artificially sweetened foods.
- Get moving. Even taking a quick walk during the day can get your heart pumping and blood flowing – which can help prevent blockages.
- Know the signs of stroke. Remember the FAST acronym for identifying the most common symptoms of stroke and what to do next (Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, Time to call 911).
- Educate family and friends. If you are at risk for stroke, let those close to you know. In case you have a stroke and are unable to take action yourself, those around you can recognize symptoms and call for help.
What is your risk for having a stroke? Take the online risk assessment now. To learn more about treatment available at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/stroke.
Dr. Alex Chebl is a stroke and interventional neurologist and director of the Henry Ford Comprehensive Stroke Center. He sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.