A stroke can hap­pen at any age

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports - BY EVE GLAZIER, M.D., and EL­IZ­A­BETH KO, M.D.

Dear Doc­tor: I was a huge Luke Perry fan in high school, and like so many oth­ers, I was shocked that he had a stroke at just 52 years old. Isn’t that aw­fully young? How do you know if you’re hav­ing a stroke?

Dear Reader: While it’s true that the ma­jor­ity of strokes oc­cur in peo­ple 65 and older, they can hap­pen in peo­ple of any age. This in­cludes not only young and mid­dle-aged adults, but also chil­dren and even in­fants in utero.

Stroke is the fifth-lead­ing cause of death in the United States. Risk fac­tors in­clude high blood pres­sure, high choles­terol, smok­ing, obe­sity and di­a­betes.

Of the 795,000 peo­ple each year who have a stroke, 140,000 do not sur­vive. A sig­nif­i­cant percentage of those who do sur­vive are left with a range of dis­abil­i­ties that af­fect speech, move­ment and cognition.

One of the chal­lenges for younger stroke vic­tims is mis­di­ag­no­sis. Symp­toms can be mis­taken for con­di­tions like mi­graine, seizure and in­ner ear dis­or­ders.

A stroke oc­curs when the blood sup­ply to the brain is in­ter­rupted, which hap­pens in two ways. The most com­mon type of stroke, known as an is­chemic stroke, oc­curs when blood is un­able to travel through a blood ves­sel and reach the brain.

In a hem­or­rhagic stroke, the sec­ond ma­jor type of stroke, the blood ves­sel tears or rup­tures. In both types of stroke, the re­sult is the same – the oxy­gen and nu­tri­ents car­ried by the blood can’t reach the brain cells. In a very short pe­riod of time, the brain cells be­gin to die.

A third type of stroke is known as a tran­sient is­chemic at­tack, or TIA. This is when stroke symp­toms ap­pear for a brief pe­riod of time but then go away. Th­ese so-called “mini strokes” can some­times be pre­cur­sors to a ma­jor stroke, so it’s im­por­tant to take TIAs se­ri­ously and seek med­i­cal treat­ment im­me­di­ately.

Signs of stroke in­clude sud­den weak­ness or numb­ness in a limb or in the face, often on just one side of the body. Sud­den dizzi­ness, con­fu­sion, gar­bled speech, loss of bal­ance or co­or­di­na­tion, or prob­lems with eye­sight in one or both eyes can also sig­nal a stroke. So can the ad­vent of a sud­den headache, often quite se­vere, some­times ac­com­pa­nied by tin­gling sen­sa­tions in the face or body.

A use­ful mem­ory prompt for stroke symp­toms is the word FAST. The let­ters rep­re­sent three ma­jor in­di­ca­tors of stroke. F is for face droop­ing, A is for arm weak­ness and S is for speech. The fi­nal let­ter, T, stands for “time to call 911.” That’s par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant be­cause swift treat­ment can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death. It can also af­fect the level of dis­abil­ity that the stroke causes in a sur­vivor.

No mat­ter some­one’s age, when symp­toms sug­gest a stroke, seek im­me­di­ate med­i­cal help.

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