This Quadruples Your Risk of Having a Stroke Before 65, Study Says
This factor alone could be putting you at an outsized risk.
Every year, nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. experience a stroke, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's one stroke every 40 seconds and a stroke death every four minutes. While most of these will occur in seniors, the health authority warns that a surprisingly high number of those affected are under 65. "Stroke risk increases with age, but strokes can—and do—occur at any age," the CDC says. In fact, they say that in 2009, 34 percent of individuals hospitalized for stroke were under 65 years old. Now, a major study is warning that there's one factor that quadruples your risk of having a stroke before this age. Read on to find out whether this may affect you, and if so, what you can do about it.
If either of your parents had a stroke before they were 65, your own risk is quadrupled.
Several factors can determine your stroke risk, and one among them has to do with your family medical history. According to The Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing epidemiological study on heart health which began over 70 years ago, your risk of stroke before 65 is quadrupled if either of your parents had a stroke by that age.
"Clearly, there is a strong genetic component to stroke risk," Sudha Seshadri, MD, an associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine and lead researcher told MedicineNet. While researchers are still working to clarify the scope of that genetic risk, they say that certain genetic disorders have already been identified as threats. In particular, the American Stroke Association says that CADASIL, an inherited form of cerebrovascular disease, is known to cause stroke by blocking blood flow within the brain.
There's no such thing as "too young" for a stroke.
While stroke is certainly more common in older adults, studies have shown that there is no such thing as being "too young" for a stroke. In fact, a 2020 study published in the medical journal Stroke found that between 10 and 15 percent of stroke episodes occur in people between the ages of 18 and 50. Most experts consider 45 or below a "young" stroke age.
Unfortunately, stroke risk for middle-aged individuals has been on the rise in recent years, despite the overall decrease in strokes over the past several decades. According to a 2019 study published in the same journal, which looked at county-level data on stroke mortality, "roughly three times as many counties experienced increases in stroke death rates for middle-aged adults [35-64 years old] compared with older adults [65 and older]."
Experts attribute this increase among middle-aged patients to lifestyle factors, misdiagnosis within this age group, and "recent national increases in midlife all-cause mortality." The team concluded that their findings highlight "a need to address stroke prevention and treatment for middle-aged adults while continuing efforts to reduce stroke mortality among the more highly burdened older adults."
Here's what you can do about it.
While you can't change your family medical history or your genetic predisposition for stroke, you can offset its impact by changing your modifiable risk factors. "A positive family history should motivate one towards better control of blood pressure, blood sugar, quitting smoking, exercise and keeping an ideal weight," urges Seshadri.
She adds that you should "know your family and parents' medical history as accurately as you can," and make a point of sharing that information with your doctor. "Parental stroke occurrence should, we believe, be included in predicting a person's stroke risk," she added.
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Know when to call for help.
Stroke is the fifth most common cause of death in the U.S., and the number one cause of disability, says the American Stroke Association. However, the CDC points out that only 38 percent of Americans are aware of all major stroke symptoms and know when to call for help. They warn that it's crucial to recognize and respond to the signs of stroke by seeking immediate medical care. Arriving at the hospital within three hours of experiencing your first symptoms can greatly reduce your risk of long term disability, the health authority says.
The most common three symptoms of stroke—and the most important to remember—are facial drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulty. Additionally, some people who are having a stroke may also experience numbness, new confusion, vision problems, difficulty walking, and a severe headache with no known cause.
Call 911 if you believe you may be having a stroke, or if you notice these symptoms in someone else.