You might know of an older person who has had a stroke and think that only the elderly are at risk. The fact is: Stroke can happen at any age — and there are a variety of risk factors associated with having a stroke earlier in life. Many young adults are unprepared when a stroke occurs and may not recognize its symptoms or seek care in time. Here’s what to know about stroke in young people.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke happens when blood flow is cut off to an area of the brain. Also known as a “brain attack,” a stroke can prevent oxygen from reaching the brain, resulting in brain cell death and possibly brain damage. The extent of the damage depends on the size and type of stroke. People may experience only temporary weakness after having a stroke, or they may be permanently disabled or pass away.
What causes a stroke?
There are two types of stroke — ischemic and hemorrhagic.
An ischemic stroke is caused by a blood clot that cuts off blood flow to an area of the brain. The most common type of stroke, ischemic stroke, makes up about 87% of all strokes. It is most often caused by high blood pressure and/or cardiac dysrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation. The different types of ischemic stroke are:
- Embolic strokes — which occur when plaque or a clot travels to the brain from another part of the body and gets stuck in a blood vessel in the brain.
- Thrombotic strokes — happen when a blood clot forms in an artery of the brain.
- Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) or “mini-strokes” are a temporary loss of blood flow to a part of the brain. Any narrowing in an artery carrying blood to the brain, such as a clot, plaque, or arterial defect — can cause a TIA. Of individuals who experience a TIA, 40% will have a stroke, and almost half of all strokes occur within just a few days of a TIA.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood leaks into the brain or between the brain and the skull. These strokes happen when an artery leading to the brain bursts because it is weak or damaged from age or years of high blood pressure.
How Often Does Stroke Occur in Young Adults?
Although the majority of people who suffer a stroke are older than 60, up to 10% of all strokes occur in those under age 45.
Infants, children, high school students, and young adults can experience stroke. A stroke can develop unexpectedly – so learn how to recognize the signs and react quickly.
Risk Factors for Stroke in Young People
There are several factors that can cause stroke in young adults. Risk factors that increase the chance of having a stroke as a young adult include:
In older people and the elderly, strokes often are the result of blood clots that travel to the brain or clogged arteries that prevent proper blood flow.
What can trigger a stroke?
Although it can take years for arteries to harden, certain lifestyle habits – such as smoking, heavy drug use, and a poor diet – can quicken the process, potentially resulting in a stroke at a young age.
Even though these factors increase the stroke risk of young adults, there are still many unknown causes of stroke in those under 45.
Know the Symptoms of Stroke in Young Adults
To help you determine if someone is having a stroke, use the acronym “F.A.S.T.” This stands for:
- Face– Is their face drooping on one side?
- Arms– Do they have difficulty raising both arms?
- Speech– Is their speech slurred? Are they unable to repeat simple phrases?
- Time– If you answer yes to any of the above questions, call 911 as soon as possible.
Symptoms that can accompany a stroke include:
- Numbness on one side of the body.
- Difficulty speaking.
The symptoms of stroke in young adults are the same as those in older people. Do not wait to see if the stroke symptoms go away on their own. Call 911 – even if you are unsure if someone is experiencing the symptoms of a stroke.
What happens if you have a stroke?
There are many issues that may happen after a stroke. Most are common and will improve with time and rehabilitation. Common physical conditions after a stroke include:
- Weakness, paralysis, and problems with balance or coordination.
- Pain, numbness, or burning and tingling sensations.
- Fatigue, which may continue after you return home.
- Inattention to one side of the body, also known as neglect; in extreme cases, you may not be aware of your arm or leg.
- Urinary or bowel incontinence.
- Speech problems or difficulty understanding speech, reading, or writing.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Memory problems, poor attention span, or difficulty solving problems.
- Visual problems.
- Depression, anxiety, or mood swings with emotional outbursts.
- Difficulty recognizing limitations caused by the stroke.
Stroke Prevention: How to Reduce Your Risk
A stroke can occur at any age, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
One of the most important ways to protect yourself from stroke is by maintaining a healthy diet and weight, which also helps lower your risk for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Important ways you can lower your stroke risk include:
- Keep a regular exercise schedule of at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
- Kick unhealthy habits, such as smoking and excessive drinking.
- Manage and monitor any known heart conditions with the help of your doctor.
Editor's Note: This gallery was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .