Stroke rates rising among younger adults: report
A new report warns that the rates of stroke are increasing among Canadian young adults faster than among older adults.
The risk of a stroke increases with age, which is why 80 per cent of all strokes happen to those over 60. But an increasing percentage of hospital admissions for stroke are occurring among patients between the ages of 20 and 59, the Heart & Stroke 2017 Stroke Report reveals.
Dr. Patrice Lindsay, a director with Heart & Stroke (formerly the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada), says there are a few reasons why strokes are up among younger adults, and much of it has to do with our lifestyles.
“People in that age bracket are in a much more fast-paced lifestyle, with a lot more pressures at work to excel,” Lindsay told CTV News Channel.
“We tend to work longer hours, take out fast food on the way home, and by the time of the night, we just don’t have time to exercise -- or we don’t make the time, which is the real issue. So we’re seeing higher blood pressure and more diabetes at a much younger age than we used to.”
The key risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, obesity, high stress, and high cholesterol. When those factors combine, even young adults can experience a stroke.
“What we’re seeing in this report is people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are really seeing significant increase in the number of strokes,” she said.
“We’re talking about an 11 per cent increase in a decade, which is quite substantial.”
Eighty per cent of people who experience a stroke survive, thanks to improvements in early stroke care. But many of the young adults who survive a stroke live with the effects for the rest of their lives.
About 60 per cent of survivors are left with some kind of disability, which can range from significant physical disability, to ongoing cognitive problems, such as memory difficulties.
Between one-third and one-half of survivors also develop depression, Heart & Stroke says, and between one-third and three-quarters experience post-stroke fatigue.
Caroline McGregor knows about post-stroke fatigue. The 27-year-old experienced a stroke in March, but didn’t recognize at first that her headaches and sudden balance problems were a serious emergency.
It was only after she found herself falling over to the left that she went to hospital and learned that she had had an ischemic stroke.
“It was very surprising. You don’t hear about 20-somethings having a stroke, I definitely was shocked,” she told CTV News.
Months later, she still has trouble with her balance and intense fatigue, though she says she’s continuing to improve. She’ll never know what caused tears in her neck arteries that led to her stroke but she wants other young adults to know they should seek help if they develop sudden unusual symptoms.
“If you feel like something is wrong, don’t be afraid to impose on people if they are asking you if you need help,” she said.
Heart & Stroke says for young adults, a stroke can complicate already busy lives, since younger adults often have careers, kids, and perhaps aging parents who need to be cared for as well.
What’s more, a stroke in younger life can lead to further health issues in older age. Because a stroke cuts off blood flow through the brain, the cell damage in the brain can lead to dementia later in life. In fact, a history of even one stroke more than doubles the risk of a person developing dementia.
“It’s not just a disease of the elderly anymore,” Lindsay said. “We all have to be aware of that because then we’ll recognize it faster and seek treatment faster. And then some of these after-effects won’t be as severe.”
The key signs of a stroke can be broken down into the acronym FAST: Face drooping; Arms that cannot both be raised; Slurred or jumbled speech; Time to call 911.
The key to stroke recovery is quick action, since treatment needs to begin with a couple of hours of stroke onset. Heart & Stroke advises anyone who thinks someone they know is having a stroke to call 911 and not try to drive a patient directly to hospital.
The quicker the signs are recognized, and the patient is diagnosed and treated, the greater likelihood of a good recovery and the lower the risk of another stroke.
Heart & Stroke offers a risk assessment tool on their website