For most young people, the chance of having a stroke seems like an impossibility. But the reality is that stroke rates among young adults appear to be on the rise. As reported in Men’s Health, stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in men, and experts consider a young stroke age to be under 45.
You may wonder why this serious post. It’s a real concern. This week we had a big scare with a close friend and her husband who was rushed to ICU (and is still there!) because of a possible stroke. He had no idea. Did not feel anything but the flu that he was suffering from. But his blood pressure was through the roof!
I see and hear of more and more younger men experiencing TIA’s (transient ischemic attack/ mini stroke) and strokes with no* warning, and seemingly out of no where. Men as young as 35 experiencing heart problems. My own husband has a family history with heart problems, and we’ve also had a scare or two with his health. And the stressful lifestyles they are living aren’t exactly helping.
*I say no warning, but our bodies are constantly giving us warning signs; we are just not great at reading them, or know what to look for.
Facts in South Africa
Stroke is essentially a ‘brain attack’. The supply of blood and oxygen to the brain can be cut off because of a blockage or damage to a blood vessel in the brain. This causes the brain cells to die, which can be fatal or result in disability.
Hypertension is South Africa’s biggest epidemic. But most people don’t know they have high blood pressure, and few of those on treatment have their blood pressure under control. Hypertension is the main cause of strokes and heart attacks, but it also plays a role in other conditions such as kidney disease, sexual dysfunction and dementia.
The shocking statistics show that one in five high school children already have high blood pressure, according to Professor Alta Schutte, director of the Medical Research Council’s Unit for Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease.
“Many factors complicate South Africa’s response to stroke. High blood pressure, smoking, diet rich in fatty foods and sugary drinks and insufficient exercise describe the lifestyle of too many South Africans – and make us more at risk of stroke. When a stroke strikes, poor patient awareness of symptoms and inadequate access to fast medical help make survival and recovery less likely.”Professor Pamela Naidoo, the CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation
Recognising the Warning Signs
Stroke can happen at any age, and there are a variety of risk factors associated with having a one earlier in life. In fact, many young adults are unprepared when a stroke occurs. They may not recognize its symptoms or seek care in time. The quicker you recognize the signs of stroke and seek medical care, the higher your likelihood is of having a successful recovery. Although strokes are one of the leading causes of death in men, most men are unable to list even one sign of a stroke. It is important for men to know how to identify that a stroke is happening, and the steps they can take to prevent them.
The easiest way to recognize a stroke is to think FAST.
- Face – smile or show teeth. Is one side drooping?
- Arm – raise both arms. Does one drift down?
- Speech – repeat any sentence. Trouble speaking or understanding?
- Time – every second counts in getting help. Time saved is brain function saved.
Although these might be the easiest and basic ways to remember the signs of a stroke, there are several other symptoms to also be aware of. These include;
- Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden headache with no cause
- Loss of balance or coordination
- Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
- Inability to speak or difficulty understanding conversation
- Stomach pain and/or nausea
Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA)
TIA’s are often referred to as a “mini stroke” or a “warning stroke”, and nearly 15% of all major strokes are preceded by a TIA. This happens when an artery is temporarily blocked, and the symptoms are the same as with a stroke, can happen suddenly and last fewer than 5 minutes.
Thankfully, they rarely cause permanent damage to the brain. But there is also no way of telling whether the clot is transient and will dissolve on its own without seeing a doctor.
Preventing a Stroke
Whether you’re 25 or 75, there are steps you can take to prevent a stroke. We’ve gotten better in terms of medication, but lifestyle is key. The number one risk factor is a previous stroke. Diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and high blood pressure are other key risk factors.
We tend to only go to the doctor when we’re half-way dying. Do yourself a favour and go to to doctor for a general checkup. Know your personal risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, elevated cholesterol and atrial fibrillation, even if there is is no known history of heart conditions in your family.
You can start to lower your risk by making changes to your daily habits. The more exercise you get, the greater the health benefits. Any amount of exercise or just moving more is beneficial, particularly among the most desk-bound or inactive people, experts advise. Even a two-minute walk can help. Kick those unhealthy habits, such as smoking and excessive drinking. And start becoming more aware of what you put in your body. Make healthier diet options wherever you can.
“Things happen in life that you can’t control, but you can control your health. The culture of medicine is changing with the patient taking more responsibility for their health rather than just coming to the doctor to be fixed. There’s enough knowledge out there that shows how critical lifestyle modification is to overall health and well-being.”Noor Sachdev, MD
I truly hope and pray that you will take this, and your health, seriously. You only get this one life. And we selfishly think our health only affects us. It does not. Let’s focus on living a better, more consciously healthy lifestyle to be able to love and be loved a little longer.
All my love,