Stroke is often thought of as a disease that impacts seniors but the reality is, age doesn’t matter. Stroke can also affect children and young people. Actor Luke Perry was 52 years old when he recently died of a massive stroke.
“While it is not that common for a young person to die from stroke, it is not unheard of,” says Dr. Mark Boulos, a stroke and sleep neurologist at Sunnybrook. “What is considered ‘young’ in the stroke world is a moving target, but is generally around 55-60 years of age.”
What is stroke?
“Stroke is a disease of brain blood vessels,” explains Sunnybrook stroke neurologist Dr. Amy Yu, “It is not only a disease of older people. It can affect anyone.”
A stroke happens when the blood supply to any part of your brain stops or drastically drops. When this occurs, damage to brain cells happens within a few minutes. That is why it is so important to get help immediately.
“The faster we get the blood flow going again, the less brain gets injured,” Dr. Yu emphasizes. “Treating stroke faster can mean the difference between life and death, and living with a disability, or not.”
It is estimated more than 405,000 people in Canada are living with the effects of stroke. How a person is affected by stroke depends on where the stroke has occurred in the brain and how much the area has been damaged.
Stroke is on the rise among young Canadians
The latest stroke data on young adults shows that from 2006 to 2015, stroke rates increased 11 per cent in Canadians 20 to 59 years old.
“Factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, and a history of smoking history, can play a significant role in an increased risk of stroke for young people,” says Dr. Boulos.
“However, in young patients, there are other causes that may contribute to stroke. There are some genetic conditions that cause the blood to more likely to clot, which increases the risk of stroke,” he adds. “Younger patients can also develop inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain or develop abnormal blood vessels in the brain that can also increase the risk of stroke.”
“Recovery after stroke depends on the size and location of the stroke,” says Dr. Yu. “Younger patients may experience different challenges after stroke compared to older patients; for example, returning to work or resuming their roles as parents to young children or caregivers to their parents.”
How to prevent stroke
While everyday life can be fast-paced, stressful and busy, there are many ways people can lower their risk of stroke.
“It is very important to maintain good physical health to reduce the chances of sustaining a stroke, or heart attack, at any age,” says Dr. Boulos.
Here are a few things to help prevent stroke:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise
- Eat a healthy diet
- Avoid smoking
- Try to keep stress levels low
Seeing your family doctor regularly can help as well, says Dr. Boulos. “Vascular risk factors that are important to be regularly followed by your family doctor include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, and smoking.”
What are signs of stroke?
Stroke is a medical emergency. Knowing the signs of stroke and getting help right away is extremely important
“Seeking early medical attention ensures that a patient will have the best chances of recovery after stroke,” says Boulos.
So what are the signs of stroke?
Dr. Yu explains how the acronym FAST works and emphasizes the importance of acting fast if you see any of these signs:
F – Facial drooping: “Is the face is drooping on one side?”
A – Arms: “Is the person not able to lift both arms?”
S – Speech: “Is the speech slurred, jumbled, or difficult to understand?”
T – Time: “T is for time to call 9-1-1.”
FAST is a quick and easy way to recognize the signs of stoke, which can happen to anyone at anytime. Experts say, time is brain – and the faster medical attention is received at the sign of a stroke, the greater the possibility that more brain can be saved, which is important to know no matter how young or how old you are.