Stroke is often considered an ailment that affects older individuals but can also occur in young people. Moreover, since it is usually unexpected, knowing the warning signs of stroke in young people could save a life.

In fact, the incidence of stroke in younger people has been on the rise in recent years due to various factors such as sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy dietary habits. 

Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the warning signs of stroke that young people should look out for to seek immediate medical care and prevent long-term complications.

Also check out How to Prevent Stroke and Is Heart Disease Hereditary.

Epidemiology of Stroke in Young People:

Stroke, also known as cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is a medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted.

This can be caused by either a blocked or ruptured blood vessel in the brain. When this happens, brain cells begin to die due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients.

There are two main types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes occur when a clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, while hemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel ruptures and causes bleeding inside the brain.

Stroke is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and although there are diminishing cases in the general US population, there’s now a concerning rise in stroke cases among young people.

For instance, in 1993, the number of US adults (20-44 years) affected was 17 in every 100,000 US adults. However, this number had increased to 28 per 100 000 adults by 2015.

With an increase in poor lifestyle factors, including inactivity, obesity, and poor diets, the number of strokes in young people continues to rise, with the African Americans being among the most affected.

According to research, stroke in young people comprise about 10%-15% of all stroke cases. This number may seem low, but stroke in young adults has a great economic impact, especially if it causes disability before their productive years.

Causes of Stroke in Young People:

Several risk factors can lead to strokes in young people. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and obesity. Individuals with a family history of stroke or heart disease are also at an increased risk.

Pretty woman feeling arm pain at home

Other potential risk factors include drug abuse, birth control pills, and poor health habits such as lack of exercise or unhealthy diet choices.

Let’s take a closer look at these risk factors

1. Birth control pills

Birth control pills, also known as oral contraceptives, are a popular form of birth control used by millions of women worldwide. These pills contain hormones that prevent ovulation and help regulate the menstrual cycle.

However, recent studies show that they may put young people at risk of stroke. While the risk is still relatively low, it’s important to understand how birth control pills can cause strokes in young people.

Birth control pills contain hormones that prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation. These hormones can also lead to changes in blood clotting and increase the risk of developing blood clots. When a blood clot forms in an artery leading to the brain, it can block blood flow and cause a stroke.

According to research, women taking contraceptives are twice as likely to suffer a stroke than those not on pills.

In one study, non-smoking women with normal blood pressure on low-dose contraceptive pills had an 8.5 risk of stroke per 100 000 women compared to a 4.4 increased risk in 100000 among women that don’t take contraceptives.

2. High blood pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common condition affecting millions worldwide. The American Heart Association defines it as having a consistently high force of blood against the walls of your arteries.

When blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on the arteries and can damage them over time. This can eventually lead to a stroke.

High blood pressure is often caused by lifestyle factors such as being overweight, eating an unhealthy diet, or not getting enough exercise. It can also be caused by medical conditions like kidney disease or diabetes. 

So if you have high blood pressure, it’s important to work with your doctor to bring it under control so that you can prevent complications like stroke

3. Smoking

Smoking is one of the most preventable vascular risk factors for stroke. It damages and constricts blood vessels, increases inflammation, and makes blood more likely to clot, which can increase the risk of stroke.

Smoking also decreases good cholesterol (HDL) levels while increasing the harmful one (LDL). This can increase the risk of high blood pressure, further increasing stroke risk.

According to research, people who smoke are two to four times more likely to have a stroke than those who don’t smoke.

Secondhand smoke exposure is also a risk factor for stroke. If you live with someone who smokes, your risk for stroke goes up by 20 to 30%.

4. Diabetes

When someone has diabetes, their body is unable to properly process sugar, which can lead to high levels of sugar in the blood. This can damage blood vessels, including those supplying the brain. Over time, this can lead to a stroke.

If you have diabetes, it’s important to work with your doctor to control your blood sugar levels to help lower your risk of complications.

5. Obesity

A person carrying excess weight puts additional strain on their heart and blood vessels, causing them to work harder than necessary.

This can result in high blood pressure, which damages the walls of arteries and increases the likelihood of blockages or ruptures that can lead to a stroke.

6. Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a disease of the arteries in which the arterial walls become thick and stiff, eventually restricting blood flow.

It’s often caused by a buildup of plaque, a sticky substance made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances found in the blood.

Atherosclerosis can lead to stroke if it narrows or blocks an artery that supplies blood to your brain.

7. Genetics

Some genetic conditions increase an individual’s predisposition to strokes, such as sickle cell anemia, which increases clotting and leads to smaller strokes, more common in younger individuals.

8. Drug abuse and alcoholism

Drug abuse and alcoholism are not only responsible for devastating health consequences like liver disease, addiction, and mental illness but can also cause a stroke in young people. 

Abusing drugs involves the use of illegal substances such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and others.

These drugs can cause damage to the blood vessels in the body, including those in the brain leading to a stroke.

They increase blood pressure levels and heart rate, which puts stress on arteries causing them to narrow or rupture.

Alcoholism is another major contributor to strokes among young adults. Excessive consumption of alcohol leads to high blood pressure levels, by reducing natural vasodilators like nitric oxide in the body. This further increased the risk of stroke.

Warning Signs of Stroke in Young People:

Stroke is a medical emergency that can happen at any time. So, being aware of the symptoms is important, as early detection and treatment can significantly improve outcomes.

stroke symptoms illustrated with cartoon man. graphic.

Here are some common symptoms of stroke in young people.

1. Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body

One of the most common symptoms of stroke is sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body. This may include difficulty moving an arm or leg, drooping on one side of the face, or experiencing tingling or numbness in one hand or foot.

2. Difficulty speaking or understanding speech

Another common symptom of stroke is difficulty speaking or understanding speech. This may include slurred speech, confusion, trouble finding words, and difficulty understanding what others are saying.

3. Vision problems

Vision problems such as blurred vision, double vision, loss of vision in one eye, and sensitivity to light can also be a symptom of stroke in young people.

4. Severe headache

A severe headache that comes on suddenly and without any apparent cause can also be a sign of stroke.

5. Dizziness and loss of balance

Dizziness and loss of balance are also possible symptoms for younger patients, which might lead to falls.

What Can You Do if Someone is Having a Stroke?

If you think someone is having a stroke, act F.A.S.T.

  • F – Face: Check for an uneven smile; does one side of the face droop?
  • A – Arms: Raise both arms; does one arm drift downward?
  • S – Speech: Check for slurred or garbled speech.
  • T – Time: Call 9-1-1 immediately if you see any of these signs.

Act fast at the first sign of stroke graphic

You can also use the acronym BE FAST to remember the sudden signs of a stroke:

  • B – Balance: Sudden loss of balance or coordination
  • E – Eyesight: Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • F – Face drooping: One side of the face may droop or feel numb
  • A-Arm weakness: One arm may feel weak or numb
  • S – Speech difficulty: Slurred or garbled speech, or trouble speaking at all
  • T – Time to call 911: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 right away and get to a hospital quickly

What Next?

Once you call 911:

  • Stay calm and reassure the person

During this time, it’s important to remain calm and reassuring while waiting for medical assistance. Keep them comfortable by laying them down on one side with their head slightly elevated in case they vomit.

  • Do not give them anything to eat or drink

It’s important not to offer food or drink as they may choke due to difficulty swallowing, which could make things worse.

  •  Loosen tight clothing

Loosen any tight clothing around their neck, like ties around their collar area, as it will keep air flowing through easily.

  • Observe carefully until help arrives

While waiting for medical assistance, observe the patient closely for changes in their condition, such as breathing problems, etc. 

Effects of Stroke in Young People:

The effects of stroke on young people can be devastating and long-lasting. They may include:

1. Physical Effects

One of the most noticeable effects of stroke in young people is physical impairment. Depending on which part of the brain was affected by the stroke, a person may experience weakness or paralysis on one side of their body. They may have difficulty with coordination and balance, making it challenging to walk or perform daily activities such as dressing themselves.

2. Speech and Language Impairment

Another common effect of stroke is speech and language impairment. Young people who suffer from a stroke may struggle with communication due to difficulties speaking or understanding language.

3. Cognitive Effects

A stroke can also affect cognitive abilities such as memory, attention span, and problem-solving skills. Young adults who suffer from a stroke may find it challenging to return to school or work due to these impairments.

4. Depression and Anxiety

In addition to physical impairments, young adults who experience a stroke are at an increased risk for depression and anxiety. This could be due in part to changes in their ability to participate in activities they once enjoyed or feeling isolated due to their disability.

5. Financial Impact

The financial impact of suffering a stroke at a young age can also be significant. Many young adults are just starting out their careers when they suffer from a stroke which could lead them unable to work anymore.

Lifestyle changes to reduce risk factors of stroke in young people

  • Control your blood pressure: Young adults should get their blood pressure checked regularly and take steps to keep it under control, such as exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet 
  • Maintain a healthy weight: A healthy diet and regular exercise can help young adults maintain a healthy weight.
  • Stop smoking
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Young adults should limit their alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. If you can, avoid alcohol altogether.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise helps lower blood pressure, improves circulation, and reduces stress – all factors that contribute to reducing the risk of stroke.
  • Manage stress: Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure and other health problems that increase the risk of stroke
  • Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help reduce the risk factors for stroke by providing essential nutrients needed for overall good health.

Final Thoughts

Stroke is not just a disease that affects the elderly. Younger people are also at risk of experiencing strokes and should be aware of the signs and symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.

The signs may vary from person to person, but early recognition of these signs can lead to timely treatment, which can improve outcomes and reduce long-term disabilities.

It’s important for young people to take care of their health by staying active, maintaining a healthy diet, managing stress levels, and avoiding risky behaviors such as smoking or excessive drinking.

With increased awareness and knowledge about strokes in young people, we can work towards preventing this potentially life-threatening condition.

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