Stroke not on your radar? Here’s why you need to learn the signs.
In your thirties and forties, you may start to lament your first gray hairs, your more frequent back aches, or your slowing metabolism, but the notion of possibly having stroke is likely not even close to being on your radar.
“I think the big myth of stroke is that it’s only going to happen to old people,” says Carolyn Brockington, MD, a neurologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital. Many people think that “you don’t have to worry about it if you’re young—you’re fine.”
Who Can Have a Stroke?
The short answer is “anyone.” A stroke can happen at any age, even in childhood. In 2009, one third of patients who were hospitalized by stroke were younger than 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A stroke is a brain injury caused by not enough blood getting to the brain, according to Dr. Brockington. This deprives the brain cells of oxygen, essentially causing them to die off. There are a number of reasons this can happen, and not all of them are linked to age. There are two main kinds of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke is the most common and is the result of a blocked blood vessel; a hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel ruptures.
“We’re starting to see an incidence of stroke in younger adults,” says Dr. Brockington. “Yesterday, I saw someone who was 22 who came into the emergency room with a stroke.” The young woman had sustained a neck injury that hindered blood flow to the brain.
Hemorrhagic strokes caused by brain aneurysms are most common between the ages of 35 and 60, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Additionally, a 2014 study found that 11 percent of patients with sickle cell disease have a stroke before they reach age 20.
The Rise of Stroke Among Young People
That said, ischemic strokes aren’t exclusive to older adults. In fact, they’re becoming more common across the lifespan.
Common risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, and atrial fibrillation, according to the American Stroke Association. While these conditions and factors typically take time develop and are generally associated with older age, high blood pressure and obesity are becoming more prevalent among young and middle-aged adults.
Among Americans between the ages of 34 and 44, 22.6 percent of men and 18.3 percent of women had high blood pressure, according to a 2015 study in the journal Circulation.
Between 2000 and 2010, strokes increased by 44 percent among Americans aged 25 to 44, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The researchers connected this trend to the growing rates of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity among young people.
If you can have a stroke at any age, then you need to be prepared for a stroke at any age. Period.
“The key is, we want people to recognize the symptoms and come in right away,” says Dr. Brockington. Stroke symptoms come on suddenly, someties over just minutes. These are some of the most common stroke symptoms:
Weakness on one side
Numbness on one side
Problems with speech
Problems with vision
Problems with walking and coordination
If you notice these symptoms, call 911. Don’t wait to see if they go away on their own. “Stroke is very scary, so there’s a lot of denial,” says Dr. Brockington. “It’s not time to look up your symptoms and figure it out on your own. Really, this is time-dependent, and it’s important that people come in right away.”
Dr. Brockington is a neurologist and director of the Stroke Center at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York City.
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I think the big myth of stroke is that
it's only gonna happen to old people,
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that you don't have to worry.
00:00:07,065 --> 00:00:08,385
If you're young, you're fine.
00:00:08,385 --> 00:00:12,390
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A stroke is an injury to the brain
that comes from the result of
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not enough blood getting to
the brain in a period of time.
00:00:19,630 --> 00:00:22,000
So if suddenly the blood
vessel is blocked and
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not enough blood can get
through the brain, or
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maybe a small blood clot goes to
the brain, that's what causes a stroke.
00:00:27,420 --> 00:00:32,139
We're starting to see an incidence
of stroke in younger adults, and so
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we're talking about strokes
less than age 55, 45.
00:00:35,925 --> 00:00:37,298
People ask me all the time,
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do you see young people coming
into the emergency room?
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Yes, in fact yesterday,
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I saw someone who is 22 who came into
the emergency room with a stroke.
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A young woman in a yoga class, she noticed
that she couldn't see very well and
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she thought, well that's odd,
is something in my eye?
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And she had neck pain.
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And she developed a stroke because there
was an injury to one of the arteries, so
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it didn't allow enough blood
flow to get to the brain.
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It didn't even occur to her that
this could have been a stroke.
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But it was her father who actually said,
hey, that kinda sounds like a stroke.
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Maybe you should go to the hospital.
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The key is we want people to recognize
the symptoms and come in right away.
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The symptoms are abrupt.
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They can be weakness on one side,
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numbness on one side, problems
with speech, problems with vision,
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problems with walking where almost
they're walking as if they're drunk.
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If those symptoms happen suddenly,
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you need to call 911 immediately in order
to go to the closest emergency room.
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A stroke is very scary, so
there's a lot of denial.
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And many times when people come into
the emergency room, I say, well,
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why didn't you come in right away?
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So if someone has maybe arm weakness,
they say, maybe I slept on it wrong.
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But if it's persistent for
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hours, that's not really consistent
with sleeping on your arm.
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Specifically with stroke, if you think
you're having one, or if your friend or
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family member's having one,
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the real thing that you should
do is come into the hospital.
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It's not time to sort of look up your
symptoms and figure it out on your own.
00:01:55,250 --> 00:01:58,396
Really this is time-dependent, and
it's important people come in right away.
00:01:58,396 --> 00:02:03,988
Bejot Y, Delpont B, Giroud M. Rising stroke incidence in young adults: more epidemiological evidence, more questions to be answered. J Am Heart Assoc. 2016 May;5:e0003661.
Brain aneurysm statistics and facts. Hanover, MA: Brain Aneurysm Foundation. (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at https://www.bafound.org/about-brain-aneurysms/brain-aneurysm-basics/brain-aneurysm-statistics-and-facts/.)
Mozaffarian D, Benjamin EJ, Go AS, Arnett DK, Blaha MJ, Cushman M, de Ferranti S, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2015 update. Circulation. 2015 Jan;131(4):e-29-e322.
Stroke facts. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm.)
Stroke risks. Dallas, TX: American Stroke Association. (Accessed on May 8, 2018 at http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/UnderstandingRisk/Understanding-Stroke-Risk_UCM_308539_SubHomePage.jsp.)
Talahma M, Strbian D, Sundararajan S. Sickle cell disease and stroke. Stroke. 2014;45:e98-e100.Types of stroke. Dallas, TX: American Stroke Association. (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/TypesofStroke/Types-of-Stroke_UCM_308531_SubHomePage.jsp.)