Age might be the first risk factor we think of when predicting heart attack and stroke. But age, it seems, is not the risk factor it once was.

Although strokes usually occur in people age 65 and up, adults in younger age groups are suffering strokes in increasing numbers. In 2005, more than seven percent of stroke victims were between ages 20 and 45, compared to just four percent in the mid-1990s. Researchers have suggested that the obesity epidemic in young people is one reason for the increase.

“Young people usually exhibit similar stroke symptoms to older adults, but they may not seek treatment as quickly since strokes are considered rare in those under 50,” said Cynthia Cimini, RN, BSN, Coordinator of CV Quality Initiatives at Rapides Regional Medical Center.

One study found that young people are also more likely to be misdiagnosed in emergency rooms because common symptoms such as headaches, vertigo and nausea may be associated with migraines, intoxication and other conditions.

“Our goal is to make sure that men and women of all ages know the signs and symptoms of stroke,” Cimini said. “Time is brain. The faster we can recognize the signs of stroke and receive emergency treatment, the better patient outcomes we see.”

Cause & Effect

The primary causes of stroke in young people are familiar: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and excess alcohol consumption. However, other medical problems are also linked to stroke, including:

  • Blood clots or blood clotting abnormalities
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Family history of stroke
  • Drug abuse
  • Trauma from whiplash or sports-related activities
  • Migraines combined with an aura and/or loss of vision or function on one side
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)

Young adults have a better chance of recovering completely from stroke, but may suffer life-long disabilities as a result of the trauma. To lower stroke risk, young adults should manage critical lifestyle risks: keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check, lose excess pounds and stop smoking.

If you notice any signs of a stroke in anyone young or old, seek immediate medical attention. For ER wait times, text E.R. to 32222.