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Stroke Incidence Rises for People Under 45, Here’s How to Spot

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Stroke impacts all ages. (Photo: Corbis Images)

We all know the symptom rundown – if you’re experiencing numbness, weakness, severe headache, or difficulty speaking or seeing, go to the nearest ER. But, most 18 to 45 year olds say they would delay going to the hospital, according to a nationwide survey of 1,009 adults released today by UCLA.

“Timely treatment for stroke is probably more important than for almost any other medical problem there is,” says David Liebeskind, MD, professor of neurology, director of outpatient stroke and neurovascular programs and director of the Neurovascular Imaging Research Core at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. "There is a very limited window in which to start treatment because the brain is very sensitive to a lack of blood flow or to bleeding, and the longer patients wait, the more devastating the consequences.”

It could be that stroke isn’t registering on the under-45 set’s radar as being something that can impact them. “When they are young, they don’t think it is a stroke,” says Dr. Liebeskind. “But they need to understand that stroke is a disease in the young and not just the old.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 795,000 people have a stroke each year. Since the 1990s, the amount of 18-45 year olds being discharged from the hospital after experiencing a stroke has increased by 53 percent. While science is still trying to pinpoint the reasons why stroke is occurring more in the under-45 set, recognizing the symptoms of a stroke can be life-saving.

Related: This 26-Year-Old Woman Had a Stroke Because of Her Birth Control

“Treatment starts with recognition,” Dr. Libeskind says. “The time window to reverse stroke is 3 hours after the first symptom presents itself.” Too bad the survey reveals that 3 out of 4 of us wouldn’t know when a stroke was occurring. But committing the acronym FAST to memory may help:

Face drooping
Arm weakness or
Speech difficulty, it’s
Time to call 9-1-1

Related: Obesity May Increase Stroke in Young Adults

These are the signs of stroke and, if you see anyone — no matter his or her age — exhibiting them, get medical attention quickly. “There is an aggressive policy to use imaging to help diagnose the stroke. The younger the individual, the more accurate and informative MRIs and CT Scans are in diagnosis,” Dr. Libeskind says. The sooner a stroke can be identified and the sooner treatment can began.

Ultimately, knowing about our brain health should be as important as knowing about our cardiovascular health, Dr. Libeskind says. Keeping both of your brain and your heart functioning properly is simple: don’t smoke, eat well and exercise. If you’re curious about your own stroke risk, you can use this calculator to assess it.

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