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Why an increasing number of younger people are at risk for stroke

 <b>Doctor attentively examines the MRI scan of the patient.</b>
Doctor attentively examines the MRI scan of the patient.

Strokes occur most often in older people. For people much younger – say, 20 to 44 – stroke is very uncommon.

However, Dr. Claudia Perez, a neuro-intensivist with Texas Health Fort Worth tells KERA’s Sam Baker there’s been an increase in the risk of stroke among younger patients.

Over the last decade, there's been about a 44% increase in these patients having strokes. A lot of this comes from a sedentary lifestyle. The increasing risk of obesity, along with considering that in younger patients, we also have to consider other less typical conditions that can lead to a stroke.

Let me try a particular example. Cori Broaddus, age 24. She's black and female. She's the daughter of the rapper Snoop Dogg. How at risk was she for a stroke? She did suffer one. 

You know, there wasn't a lot of information given from what the actual cause of the stroke was, for her. But there are a couple of things to consider in that specific case.

One, she has lupus, an autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself, leads to inflammation, and can increase your risk of having a stroke.

Whenever we look at the rise in stroke in the young, it's not shared across all the regions. Very equally, we're seeing a higher rate of, stroke in some southern and Midwest states and in certain demographics like African Americans and Hispanics.

And then the other thing that I would say, particularly for her, you know, whenever we're thinking about stroke in the young, we also have to think about this as a time whenever women are at highest risk of having a stroke. Some of this comes from using oral contraceptive pills, but also just being pregnant.

That time around pregnancy increases the risk of developing conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and having a stroke. So, for her in particular, there are so many different variables that we have to consider.

How much can family history and genetics be at work?

Especially in younger patients, that is something that we have to really consider. Whenever you think about high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes causing stroke, usually, that takes years to develop. Although I will say we're seeing a lot of premature atherosclerosis or changes to the blood vessels of younger people that we weren't seeing before, but that's still not the most common things that happen.

And so in somebody who is younger, you have to consider all these other conditions, like genetic conditions, structural changes in the heart that can lead, to strokes and then familial conditions like lupus and some other conditions that you might have heard of, like sickle cell and things like that.

So, in a young person, you have to weigh heavily the family history that that might have predisposed them to the stroke.

What can they do, if anything, to guard against stroke?

Prevention and recognition. About 80% of stroke is preventable through living a more brain-healthy life, being active, eating healthy, making sure you're sleeping well, and avoiding things like tobacco drugs and reducing the amount of alcohol that is being consumed.

The other thing is recognizing your own risk factors. A lot of young people don't always feel the need to have a primary care doctor, right? So, we might not be finding out that there was something like high blood pressure, diabetes that could have been treated early.

Having those discussions with the primary care doctor leads you to kind of talk a little bit about the family history, and so kind of recognizing what you're vulnerable at and working at the things that are preventable, I think are key for young people.


CDC: Know Your Risk For Stroke

Young Adults Can Have Strokes, Too: BE FAST to Spot the Signs

Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.