23 Surprising Diseases That Can Strike Younger Than You Think
Alzheimer's can hit far earlier than your golden years.
Certain diseases and health conditions aren’t typically at the forefront of our minds until we hit a certain age. Osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s? Those don’t come about until you reach grandparent status, right? Not exactly. Though some of the deadliest diseases and conditions have come to be associated with those 60 and older, most health issues aren’t ageist. These are some of the most surprising diseases that strike younger—in some cases, much younger—than you think.
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIH), Alzheimer’s disease—a degenerative condition of the brain that involves progressive, short-term memory loss—is typically diagnosed after the age of 65. However, it can also strike earlier than that.
The NIH notes that early-onset Alzheimer’s disease—which affects people between the ages of 30 and 65—makes up less than 10 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases in the United States. According to Elroy Vojdani, MD, a practitioner of functional medicine and founder of Regenera Medical in Los Angeles, the following factors can increase a person’s risk of this early-onset form of dementia: “Genetics, diabetes, heart disease, a history of prior brain trauma/concussion, poor oral hygiene, a poor diet high in processed carbohydrates, a lack of exercise, a lack of quality sleep, sleep apnea, and chronic usage of anti-anxiety or sleep medication.”
People who aren’t in the medical profession tend to associate neurodegenerative conditions with the natural aging process. However, Huntington’s disease—a genetic condition that causes the nerve cells in the brain to break down—can come about at any age. While symptoms mostly manifest between 30 and 50 years old, the Alzheimer’s Association says that people can also experience them as early as two years old or as late as 80 years old.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., killing around 140,000 people every year. And while your risk of a stroke increases as you get older, you’re not safe at any age.
The CDC says that 34 percent of those who had strokes in 2009 were under 65 years old. What’s more, a 2017 study published in JAMA Neurology examined data on strokes among people ages 18 through 34 between 2003 and 2012; the researchers found that there was a 66 percent spike in strokes in young women and a 75 percent spike in young men.
Most people don’t worry about their heart health until they’re much, much older. But while increasing age is a risk factor, the CDC notes that heart disease is becoming more common in young adults. High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and unhealthy eating patterns can all put a person, regardless of their age, at a greater risk of heart disease.
And Heart Attacks
According to the Cleveland Clinic, age used to be one of the biggest heart disease risk factors for men and women alike. However, though the condition previously primarily afflicted men over 50 and women over 65, it’s now becoming an issue for people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, too.
“One of the biggest risk factors is the increasing incident of type 2 diabetes. We’re now seeing heart attacks occurring in young men who are only 25 or 35,”cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD, explained to the Cleveland Clinic. “Not enough young people take their risk factors seriously, but we need to be aggressive about risk factor modification or the heart attack rate in young people is going to keep climbing.”
Most people think of osteoporosis as an old person’s disease. And while it is more common after 50, the disease can affect younger people, too—especially premenopausal women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Because of this, it’s never too early to start taking care of your bones to decrease your risk, and you can do so simply by increasing your vitamin D and calcium intake.
With symptoms like achy joints and swollen ankles, you’d hardly expect a disease like lupus to affect young individuals. However, as Howard Smith, MD, a rheumatologic and immunologic diseases expert, explained to the Cleveland Clinic, “women of childbearing age—13 to 49—are far more likely to be affected. If you’re a woman with no family history of lupus, your chances of getting lupus are about one in 400. If your parents or a sibling has lupus, your chances jump to one in 25.”
People tend to associate gout with older individuals, seeing as it’s a form of inflammatory arthritis that causes severe pain and tenderness in the joints. The disease can strike earlier, though, usually due to one primary reason: obesity. According to the Arthritis Foundation, having more weight on your body puts you at a higher risk, causing it to develop at a younger age.
Though the average person doesn’t start to experience symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis until they reach their 60s, it is possible to develop the disease at a younger age. And this is especially the case for women: According to the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network, while men typically experience rheumatoid arthritis later in life, women can develop it any time between the ages of 30 and 60.
Though people usually develop Parkinson’s disease after 60, it can also develop much earlier. Actually, Parkinson’s affects those under 50 so often that it even has its own name: Young Onset Parkin’s Disease (YOPD). According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, this type of Parkinson’s affects 2 to 10 percent of the one million individuals with the disease in the United States. Children and teens can also experience juvenile Parkinsonism. It’s rare, but it happens.
Though one of the main risk factors for chronic kidney disease (CKD) is being over the age of 60, children and adolescents can also be affected. In fact, it’s likely much more common than you think for a child to come down with CKD: According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 5,700 children under the age of 18 had end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) in 2016.
In the past, you didn’t have to worry about getting a colonoscopy before your 50th birthday. However, research has shown there’s been a rise in colon cancer diagnoses in young adults. In a 2017 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that colon cancer rates among adults ages 20 to 29 increased 2.4 percent annually from the mid-1980s through 2013.
Colon cancer isn’t the only type of cancer that’s on the rise among young adults. The same 2017 study also found that, in adults ages 20 to 29, rectal cancer rates increased by 3.2 percent annually from 1974 to 2013.
Since smoking does damage over time, the CDC notes that the majority of lung cancer cases are seen in older individuals. With that being said, though, there are still young people diagnosed with lunger cancer every year.
According to the same data from the CDC, plenty of people in their 30s and 40s were diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States in 2016. And in a 2012 analysis published in the journal Contemporary Oncology, researchers found that 7 percent of lung cancer patients studied were under 25 years old, whereas in previous peer group studies under-25 individuals with lung cancer made up just 2 percent of the subject pool.
Most men who develop prostate cancer are diagnosed after 65, according to the American Cancer Society. However, past research has shown it’s possible for younger men to get this type of cancer, too. A 2014 article published in the journal Nature Reviews Urology notes that every year, 10 percent of prostate cancer diagnoses in the United States occur in men who are under 55 years old, most likely due to genetics.
Though thyroid cancer tends to manifests for men in their 60s or 70s and for women in their 40s or 50s, the American Cancer Society says that it’s also one of the most common cancers seen in young adults. In fact, the organization notes that “thyroid cancer is [more] commonly diagnosed at a younger age than most other adult cancers.”
While your risk of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, increases as you get older—the average age of diagnosis is 63—the American Cancer Society says it can come up much earlier than that, too. Actually, it’s not at all uncommon for those under the age of 30 to get it: Melanoma is one of the most common types of cancers seen in young adults, so don’t hesitate to get any weird-looking moles checked out.
More than 80 percent of pancreatic cancer cases are seen in those between 60 and 80 years old, but it can still strike earlier on. According to a report from the National Cancer Institute, approximately 8.4 percent of new pancreatic cancer cases between 2012 and 2016 were seen in people between the ages of 45 and 54, and 1.8 percent were among those between 35 and 44.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is one of the most common types of cancer in the United States, and the risk of developing it increases as you age. But while more than 50 percent of cases are in those ages 65 and older, the American Cancer Society notes that it’s also one of the most common cancers among children, teens, and young adults.
However, that isn’t to say that younger women can’t also get breast cancer. According to the CDC, approximately 11 percent of new cases in the U.S. occur ever year in those 45 and younger. Those who have close relatives who have had breast or ovarian cancer, those who have BRCA mutations, and those who are of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are particularly susceptible.
Though Crohn’s disease—a chronic inflammatory condition that involves diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and weight loss—can occur at any age, it most commonly shows up when people are between the ages of 15 and 30, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Ulcerative colitis—an inflammatory bowel disease that causes sores and inflammation in your large intestine or colon—strikes much younger than most people expect. “Patients can get ulcerative colitis basically throughout their life,” colorectal surgeon Jeremy Lipman, MD, explained to the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s really uncommon in young kids less than 10 years old, but the typical person is going to be in their 20s or 30s, or maybe in their 60s. It doesn’t usually affect very young people or very, very old people.”
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)—a condition that comes about due to a hormonal imbalance—can impact a woman’s chances of having a child and increase her risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and uterine cancer, says the Cleveland Clinic. And while most women find out they have PCOS in their 20s and 30s, it can come about much younger than that. According to the Office on Women’s Health, between 5 and 10 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 have it, and it can affect any woman who’s gone through puberty. And for more on the truths and falsehoods of women’s health, read up on the 30 Worst Women’s Health Myths That Won’t Die.
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