By: Lisa Larson, www.thespectrum.com
For some, it manifests itself in the sudden inability to form words. Others describe a numb sensation in their lips or face. Still others may experience a drooping eyelid or weakness on one side of their body.
While seemingly minor changes, any of these scenarios could mean you're having a stroke and while such a medical emergency is tragic for anyone to endure, it is particularly surprising when it affects someone young.
Recent statistics shared by the United States Centers for Disease Control in articles by HealthDay and the Associated Press showed a 53 percent increase in strokes among males age 15 to 34 and a 17 percent increase among females of the same age. Men ages 35 to 44 saw a 47 percent increase and for women in that age group the increase was 36 percent.
While the numbers sound significant, Dr. Brett Christiansen, chairman of the stroke committee for Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, said those numbers may be misleading if taken out of context.
Stroke statistics from 1988 to 1994 showed the presence of strokes in men ages 25 to 35 was 0.5 percent, roughly 1 in 200 people, Christiansen said. The increased rate means now 1 in 150 men of that age experience strokes.
"The stats sound more exciting when 50 percent more are having it, but when they realize that's only a quarter of a person more per 200 people, it's not as scary," Christiansen said.
Still, any increase is something worth noting and theories abound as to the cause with some blaming the obesity epidemic and others citing awareness as a potential "cause."
"A good percentage, in my opinion, is we're just more aware of stroke," Christiansen said, adding that such awareness is a good thing.
In addition to the public's awareness, the medical world is more likely to run tests such as MRIs and heart echoes to diagnose and determine a cause when people come in with stroke symptoms, even if the symptoms have gone away.
Dr. Aarush Manchanda, cardiologist for Valley View Medical Center in Cedar City, said he has not personally seen a major increase in young people having strokes, possibly because of the small size of the hospital, but he thinks it is important to get the word out that strokes are not just an issue affecting the elderly and the results of a stroke can be long lasting.
"As a young person I'd rather have a heart attack than a stroke because it doesn't affect my lifestyle as much," Manchanda said.
With a heart attack, you either die or you don't but with stroke many don't recover very well, Christiansen said of what is now the fourth leading cause of death in the United States but the No. 1 cause of morbidity. "Once it happens you're stuck with a lot of bad results."
Knowing the cause of a stroke is a key to determining how to prevent another one. This is important even if symptoms dissipate after a day or so as happens after a Transient ischemic attack, a mini stroke that can be a pre-curser to a full-fledged stroke.
In patients under age 45, one of the more common causes of stroke is a hole in the heart known as a Patent Foramen Ovale. The foramen ovale occurs naturally in infants but closes in the majority of people by age two. When it persists beyond infancy it is called a PFO and allows blood to move from the right side of the heart to the left side and up into the brain. If a clot is present it can pass through the heart and into the brain causing a stroke.
PFO is present in roughly 1 out of every 5 adults, though they may not be aware of it, Manchanda said. Usually PFO does not cause a problem, but when it is combined with other risk factors for stroke such as IV drug use, a combination of smoking and some birth control methods or hematological disorders, the risk of stroke increases.
Other risks include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
Stroke prevention methods include exercise and a healthy diet as well as regular doctor visits. Those known to be at risk for ischemic stroke may be advised to take aspirin regularly to reduce the risk of blood clots but people should check with their doctor before starting such a treatment, Manchanda said.
Smoking cessation as well as alcohol moderation, weight loss and keeping diabetes under tight control are other keys to prevention, Christiansen said.
Both Manchanda and Christiansen said anyone, regardless of age, who is experiencing stroke symptoms should seek medical attention.
For more information stroke statistics, symptoms and prevention, log onto www.strokeassociation.org.
Warning Signs Of Stroke
If you or anyone you know experiences the following, seek medical attention immediately.
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
Source: American Stroke Association.
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