Most of us think of a stroke as something that happens to an older person but a new study suggests that a growing number of people under 55 may be at risk.
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have found that the rate of first stroke among people 20 to 54 rose from 12.9 percent in 1993-94 to 18.6 percent in 2005. The study was published online in the journal Neurology.
The researchers say the change may be cause by the increase in stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and more young people smoking.
Even more surprising is that stroke incidence actually declined slightly in white people over 55 and in blacks over 65.
This study hits home with me because a relative of mine who is in his 50s had a stroke two years ago. He is a very fit guy – doesn't smoke or drink and he is physically active. When he began experiencing some puzzling symptoms at a family event, few of us would have suspected he was having a stroke.
Fortunately, his wife knew the symptoms and took immediate action. We got him to a nearby hospital that contained a national stroke center and he received excellent care. Today, he is pretty much symptom free.
But the study shows how important it is for midlifers to know the warning signs of a stroke.
According to the National Stroke Association, they are:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Call 911 immediately if you experience these symptoms.