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Strokes in young adults: Risks, signs and prevention

  • Nearly 800,000 strokes happen each year in the U.S.
  • A stroke can occur at any age.
  • Strokes are happening to more young people.

A stroke happens when blood and oxygen flow to the brain stops or gets interrupted due to a ruptured or blocked blood vessel. While you may envision an older person when you read that, the fact is a stroke can happen to anyone at any age — and they’re happening to more and more younger people. About a quarter of the strokes occur in those under the age of 65.

Doctors researching this trend say it could be devastating if not addressed, citing the long-term burden for the person who has a stroke, their caregivers and society as a whole.

Stroke risks

The same issues that lead to strokes in older people can also cause them in younger age groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 1 in 3 U.S. adults now has at least one of the conditions or habits that can contribute to a stroke, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Weight issues
  • Smoking and vaping

However, a stroke in a young person can happen for other reasons. Some causes include:

  • A tear in the inside wall of the blood vessel that causes a blockage, called arterial dissection
  • An opening between the upper chambers of the heart that can be a way for a blood clot to travel to the train to cause a blockage, called patent foramen ovale
  • Drug use, including cocaine and methamphetamines
  • Rare genetic disorders such as CADASIL or vascular diseases such as Moyamoya disease

Worth noting: A recent study also revealed that certain nontraditional risk factors, such as migraines, are as important as traditional factors for adults younger than 35.

Signs of stroke

When a stroke strikes, time is of the essence. There are several treatment options, and they are most effective in the first few hours after symptoms start.

Use the acronym "BE FAST" to identify signs of stroke:

  • Balance - Sudden difficulty with balance
  • Eyes - Sudden problems with vision in one or both eyes
  • Face - Droopiness on one side of the face or mouth
  • Arms - Sudden weakness in one or more limbs
  • Speech - Slurred words or an inability to repeat a simple sentence
  • Time - Seek treatment quickly

Other sudden stroke symptoms:

  • Numbness of one side of the body in the face, arm or leg
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty walking or coordinating movement
  • Severe headache with no known cause

Call 911 immediately if you suspect a stroke.

Stroke prevention

While there are risk factors you can't control, such as age, race or family history, there are things you can do to decrease your risk of having a stroke. This is especially important for non-Hispanic Black adults whose risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high as some other adults.

Big picture: Doctors say younger people with risk factors need more health screenings, especially for high blood pressure and diabetes. Ask your health care provider to check and help you manage your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars — especially if you have a family history of strokes.

Consider these additional ways of improving health and reducing the risk for stroke:

  • Manage your weight. Losing as little as 5 to 10 pounds can significantly affect your risk.
  • Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
  • Get good sleep. Issues like sleep apnea can cause low oxygen levels during sleep and elevate blood pressure.
  • Limit alcohol use. Generally, that's one drink per day for women and two men.
  • Don't smoke or vape. Quitting these habits can significantly reduce your risk of stroke.

Go deeper: Get more information about stroke treatment.


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