The incidence of stroke in younger adults has been steadily increasing over the past decade, making it important for everyone to know the signs and seek treatment immediately.
“Not only are strokes happening more frequently in younger people than they used to, younger people tend to have more severe strokes than older adults,” says Kate Clarkson, NP, a clinical nurse specialist and director of the stroke program at Scripps Health. “However, if they get treatment in time, they can also recover faster.”
Stroke happens when the blood flow in the brain is interrupted by a clot or a ruptured blood vessel. Without proper blood flow, brain cells start to die, making stroke the leading cause of preventable disability in the US. The risk of stroke nearly doubles every decade over age 55, which is why it used to be considered a condition that only affected older adults. With the increasing rates of obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol in America, people are developing more health problems — such as stroke — earlier in life.
Other risk factors that may contribute to stroke happening at an earlier age include smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity, diabetes, alcohol or drug abuse, and a family history of stroke.
Regardless of age, the symptoms of a stroke should be taken seriously. The faster a person can receive medical attention, the better their chances for recovery.
“We teach people the FAST acronym because it’s easy to remember and it identifies some of the most common symptoms of stroke,” notes Clarkson.
FAST stands for:
- Face: Is one side of their smile drooping?
- Arms: Can they lift both arms evenly?
- Speech: Is their speech slurred or difficult to understand?
- Time: What time is it? Call 9-1-1 and tell them what time the symptoms began.
“These are not the only symptoms, there can be other subtle signs that might be ignored,” warns Clarkson.
Some of the less common symptoms of stroke include:
- Numbness and tingling, particularly on one side of the body
- Sudden onset dizziness, nausea, vomiting or a combination of these symptoms, particularly in people who have no history of these problems
- Visual disturbances on just one side, where the field of vision is limited to the left or right in both eyes
- A sudden and debilitating headache
“The headache associated with a hemorrhagic stroke is similar to a thunderclap,” says Clarkson. “It comes on with no warning and is debilitating. When people get these types of headache, they tend to want to try to sleep it off, not realizing that they are having a stroke. This is the most deadly type of stroke and needs immediate treatment.”
With any symptoms of stroke, it’s best to seek medical attention immediately, even if the symptoms go away.
“The most important thing to remember is that you only have hours to treat stroke. Time is absolutely critical,” notes Clarkson. “Even if you’re wrong about the symptoms actually being a stroke, it’s better to be safe. We’d rather you be wrong 100 times than not seek treatment because you are unsure.”
People experiencing any symptoms of stroke should also call 9-1-1 and have a loved one drive them to the hospital. Not only will they receive treatment faster, it will prevent any accidents brought on by increasing symptoms while driving themselves.