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When Stroke Strikes at a Younger Age

Stroke at a Young AgeFor most young adults, major health problems seem decades away. But stroke is a real and potentially devastating event that can affect people of all ages.

“When we’re young, we think we are invincible. But one in every four stroke victims is younger than age 65,” explains Ramadevi Swaminath, MD, physical medicine and rehab specialist and medical director of the Stroke Rehabilitation Program at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital. “Unfortunately, many young people don’t recognize the symptoms and they wait to get help. It can make treatment and recovery that much more difficult.”

A stroke can occur when a blood clot blocks an artery or a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flows to part of the brain. At age 43, Kerry Isberg was blindsided by her stroke.

“All of a sudden, I couldn’t sit up straight. I started to feel dizzy. My eyes were acting funny,” recalls the journalist and mother of two. At first, she was unable to talk, eat, or talk above a whisper. She spent eight days recovering, then received therapy.

Isberg was able to get the help she needed for a strong recovery. But not everyone identified the signs of a stroke right away. Symptoms come on suddenly and may include:

  • Dropping or numbness of one side of the face
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Loss of balance or problems walking
  • Trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Severe headache

“Sometimes younger people explain away their symptoms or don’t take them seriously,” says Dr. Swaminath. “Some might think they’ve had too much to drink or haven’t gotten enough sleep. When a stroke occurs, brain cells begin to die. It’s imperative that people seek care immediately. There is a small window of time after a stroke–during the first few hours–when treatment is most successful.”

Treatment may include clot-busting medication or surgery to open the blocked artery. After treatment, rehab is key to getting back to a normal life.

Lower Your Stroke Risk

Some risk factors, like family history, can’t be changed. But there are ways to lower your chances of having a stroke. Tackle these modifiable risk factors:

  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

Also, the birth control pill can increase stroke risk in some women. If you use oral contraceptives, ask your doctor about your personal risk.

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