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Why Are More Young People Having Strokes?

Why Are More Young People Having Strokes?

Strokes are not just an elderly person problem. It’s a misconception, though with good reason: the risk of stroke does double every decade after age 55 and are most common over age 65. But, strokes are on the rise among younger people and can affect you at any age.

Many 20-40 year olds assume they are healthy, not considering they could have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, which are both risk factors for a stroke if they’re not under control. The American Heart Association considers high blood pressure to be at or above 120/80.

About 15% of ischemic strokes, the most common type of stroke, occur in young adults and adolescents. With an ischemic stroke, blood flow and oxygen to the brain is blocked. The past decade has seen a 44% increase in the number of young people hospitalized due to stroke.

Stroke risk also skews unfavorably for women. One in five has a stroke, and it’s the No. 4 cause of death in women. Pregnancy and using birth control, along with menopause later in life, can all increase women’s risk of developing high blood pressure, a leading cause of stroke. If you had high blood pressure during pregnancy, for example, you’re at an increased risk for developing high blood pressure and having a stroke later in life.

The American Stroke Association recommends that women get screened for high blood pressure before being prescribed birth control, and to never smoke while taking oral contraceptives. High blood pressure that develops during pregnancy is called preeclampsia, which is dangerous for mom and baby. Regular blood pressure checks, as well as alerting your doctor to swelling, headaches and abdominal pain, are key during pregnancy. Black women are 60% more likely to develop preeclampsia.

Higher numbers of young people having strokes can be attributed to a collection of lifestyle risk factors, like smoking, drinking and physical inactivity, as well as chronic issues like obesity, uncontrolled high blood pressure and diabetes. In addition, many younger people don’t see a primary care physician for regular check-ups, labs and blood pressure checks. These annual visits are key to catching issues before they progress.

Though there are some genetic factors involved like family history, race and gender, up to 80% of strokes are preventable, mainly with health lifestyle adjustments. If you aren’t sure what your blood pressure typically, that is a great place to start. Have it checked regularly to reduce your stroke risk.

If you think you or your loved one is having a stroke, remember the abbreviation F.A.S.T.: Face Drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech Difficulty, Time to Call 911. Know these signs and don’t hesitate to call 911 – minutes truly matter. Strokes can be treated, starting before you even reach the hospital, but treatment is less effective with each passing minute.

Click here to learn more about stroke treatment at Baton Rouge General.