Can you have a stroke at a young age?
"Unfortunately, yes, you absolutely can have a stroke at a young age," says Preethi Ramchand, MD, neurointerventionalist and neurointensivist at Bryn Mawr Hospital, part of Main Line Health. "This is a disease that can strike at any decade of life, and therefore awareness of stroke risk factors and symptoms is critical in preventing debilitating and potentially fatal consequences."
Call 911 if you believe you or someone else is experiencing a medical emergency.
For most young adults, the risk of stroke seems decades away. But stroke is a real and potentially fatal event that can affect adults of all ages. And according to a recent Stroke Journal Report from the American Heart Association, it's doing just that.
The report indicates that 10 to 15 percent of the people who have a stroke in the United States are young adults ages 18 to 45 years old.
The report indicates that in the United States, 10 to 15 percent of the people who have a stroke are young adults ages 18 to 45 years old.
"We have to change the conversation about stroke from being something that affects an aging population to something that can affect every population," explains Dr. Ramchand.
Stroke risk factors for young adults
Although young adults have some of the same risk factors for stroke as older adults, including diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure and cholesterol, they may be more prone to the additional following risk factors:
- Recreational tobacco, alcohol, and drug use. Drug use is highest in people ages 18 to 25 years old (39%) and ages 26 to 29 years old (34%).1 More than 27% percent of people 18 to 22 years old who are not enrolled in college full-time and 33% of full-time college students reported binge drinking in the past month.2 And about one in three high school students in the United States currently uses tobacco.3 All of these things contribute to greater stroke risk in younger adults.
- Birth control pills. Women who take birth control pills are at a higher risk for blood clots and ischemic stroke. This risk is also higher if they are smokers.
- Genetic history. Congenital heart defects, blood disorders, and other genetic conditions, like sickle cell anemia, can make younger adults more at risk for stroke if such conditions are not detected and treated early.
- Patent foramen ovale (PFO). This is a persistent flap-like communication within the chambers of the heart that can allow passage of a clot to the brain. While the presence of a PFO is not always problematic, in young patients with stroke with no other risk factors, this can be the underlying mechanism and is easily treated with minimally invasive surgery.
Fortunately, many of these risk factors are within your control. Taking preventative measures like quitting tobacco and staying away from drugs, limiting alcohol intake, exercising, and eating a healthy diet will help control your cardiovascular stroke risk and benefit your overall health.
If you're a woman, talk to your doctor about alternative options for birth control, and whether or not an oral contraceptive is right for you, given your other stroke risk factors. If you're concerned about genetic health issues, talk to your health care provider about cardiovascular genetic testing options.
How to recognize stroke at a young age⏤and B.E. F.A.S.T.
Even with the best prevention, stroke is still a possibility at a young age. To familiarize yourself with the signs of stroke, just remember: B.E.F.A.S.T.
"B.E. F.A.S.T stands for loss of Balance or sudden dizziness; problems with Eyes or blurred vision; Facial drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulty; and Time to call 911," explains Ramchand. "It's a simple way to remember the symptoms of stroke and the importance of acting quickly."
And remember that these symptoms may not always present together. If you're feeling dizzy, having trouble speaking, or your vision is blurry, call 911 immediately.
"Don't hesitate to call for help or be evaluated in your local emergency department if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms.," says Ramchand. "As we like to say, "time is brain."
So don't wait if you're concerned—call for help and get care quickly.
For more information about stroke care at Main Line Health or to schedule an appointment with a stroke specialist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654).
1 NCDAS: Substance Abuse and Addiction Statistics  (drugabusestatistics.org)
2 Understanding Binge Drinking | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov)
3 Youth Tobacco Prevention | Smoking & Tobacco Use | CDC