April 9, 2019
STROKE AND YOUNGER PEOPLE
ThedaCare Provider Explains the Risk
APPLETON, Wis. – When actor Luke Perry died from stroke in March, it made headlines— and shocked many because of his age. At 52, slim and seemingly healthy, Perry didn’t seem like a high risk for stroke.
“The truth is, stroke can happen at any age,” said Simone Fearon, MD, Medical Director and Physician Leader with ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care. “Your best course of action is to know your risk profile. Then you can make informed decisions and take steps to reduce your risk as much as you can.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34% of people hospitalized for stroke in U.S. hospitals in 2009 were younger than 65.
There are two broad types of stroke — ischemic and hemorrhagic. More than 85% are ischemic strokes, meaning blood flow to the brain is blocked, usually by a blood clot. Hemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, flooding surrounding tissue. More than 35% of hemorrhagic strokes are fatal. Ischemic strokes have a much higher survival rate, about 90%. But both kinds of stroke can cause disability, affecting language, motor, cognition and sensory skills.
The sooner treatment for stroke can begin, the lower the risk of disability or death. Because most people associate stroke with older adults, it may not be recognized right away in younger people, which can delay treatment.
So it’s important for people of all ages to know the possible signs:
- Loss of speech or slurred speech
- Facial droop, often on one side of the face
- Weakness, especially on one side of the body
- Vision loss or double vision
- Dizziness and difficulty walking
“Knowing your risk profile is a key step in preventing stroke — and age is one risk factor you can’t control,” said Dr. Fearon. “Stroke risk is highest after age 65, but stroke can happen at any age.”
Two more risk factors you can’t control are gender and ethnicity. Stroke risk is nearly twice as high for African Americans as for Caucasians, and African Americans are more likely to die of stroke. Women are also at higher risk; more than 60% of stroke deaths are in women. Stroke kills about twice as many women as breast cancer.
Family history is also a factor. If you have family members with a history of heart disease, you may be at an increased risk for stroke and heart attack. Certain genetic diseases or disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, can also increase risk.
Other risk factors for stroke can be controlled or managed, including:
- Tobacco use. Both smoking and vaping have been linked with a higher risk for stroke.
- Excess weight. Obesity is a major risk factor for many serious health problems, including stroke.
- High blood pressure. Uncontrolled hypertension can increase your risk for stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular events.
- High cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol in the arteries can block normal blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke.
- Diabetes. If blood sugar is too high, it can prevent oxygen and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Diabetes also increases the risk for high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke.
- Drug abuse. Methamphetamines, cocaine and other street drugs can trigger spasms in blood vessels that can lead to stroke.
“Even if you have a family history of stroke, someone else’s story doesn’t have to be your story,” Dr. Fearon stresses.
She suggests making small changes that will gradually lower your risk.
“By changing behavior while you’re young, you can lower your risk now and for years to come. We kind of all know at the subconscious level what we need to do. We need to keep these conversations going to bring it into the conscious level as we make our day-to-day choices,” she said.
Also, it’s never too early to talk to your physician.
“Your doctor can discuss ways that can potentially lower your personal risk through lifestyle changes, medication or other preventive steps,” Fearon added. “Stroke doesn’t have to be part of your story.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization serves a community of more than 600,000 residents and employs more than 6,700 healthcare professionals throughout the regions. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.