By Sarah Samaan, MD, FACC | Published 28-Feb-2011
MRI of a brain after a stroke
When someone is having a stroke, they will often experience weakness, numbness, or both, on one side of the body. The face may droop on one side, speech may be garbled, and the person may seem confused. Any of these symptoms is reason to get to the emergency room immediately. Prompt medical attention can often minimize a stroke’s impact.
Just like coronary artery disease, most strokes can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle, keeping blood pressure in check, maintaining a good cholesterol reading, and not smoking. And while our lifestyles are less healthy than ever, good medical care has made an enormous difference in the incidence of stroke, and in the likelihood of survival following a stroke. From 1996 to 2006, the death rates from stroke dropped by a third, and the overall number of strokes dropped by 18 percent.
Since most strokes happen to older folks, we don’t usually associate the disease with younger people. But a new report presented at the recent American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference detailed a very disturbing trend. Researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 51 percent increase in stroke in males between the ages of 15 and 34 between 1994 and 2007. In females, the risk was up 17 percent. Men between the ages of 35-44 showed a 47 percent rise, while strokes in women in the same age group climbed 36 percent.
Although researchers were reluctant to speculate without analyzing the data further, it seems clear that our unhealthy lifestyles are at fault. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes are skyrocketing in younger people, and there is no sign of the trend tapering off. If this news isn’t scary enough to convince us to put down the cheeseburger, I don’t know what is.
Image above is reproduced under the CC BY_SA 3.0 license
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and while most stroke victims will survive, many will be left with devastating and life-changing disabilities. A stroke occurs when a portion of the brain is cut off from vital blood flow. This can be due to a blood clot or cholesterol plaque (known as ischemic stroke), or, less commonly, to the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). It is estimated that close to 800,000 strokes happen each year, and about 137,000 people will die from the condition. Only 10 percent of stroke victims will recover completely.