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Strokes on the rise in young adults

Stroke is not an old person’s disease, even though many people believe that they can’t be at risk because they are too young. What are the risk factors for stroke in young adults and how can those risks be mitigated?

In recent years, studies have found that ischaemic stroke in young adults is an increasing problem in both developed and developing countries.

In Africa, data published in the past decade demonstrates that Africans have a stroke within the fourth to sixth decades of life, which can have serious implications for the individual, their family and society.

Strokes in young adults are of particular significance since this condition results in a greater loss of self-worth and socioeconomic productivity than in older people.

The effects of stroke

The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) reports that nearly 240 people in South Africa will suffer a stroke daily. Of those, 70 may lose their lives and many will never fully recover and will have to learn to live with lasting disabilities. It’s important to note that stroke affects not just the patient, but also their loved ones.

‘A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that is carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes blocked by a clot or ruptures,’ explains Dr Karisha Quarrie, Operations Manager, Clinical Directorate at Life Healthcare. ‘The affected part of the brain loses functionality, as it cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs.’

Improving patient outcomes is of paramount importance in stroke treatment. This is particularly relevant in a young adult, given the psychological, physical and financial effects – as well as the impact on family and the healthcare system.

Emerging research suggests that this generation of young adults may be uniquely predisposed to stress, burnout, experiencing crime and other traumatic life events, and clinicians and researchers are increasingly concerned about the long-term health effects of chronic exposure.

In a recent article, it is reported that an estimated 10% to 14% of strokes occur in adults aged 45 and younger, and the incidence of ischaemic stroke and transient ischaemic attack (TIA) among young adults has steadily increased over the past decade.

Nearly 50% of stroke cases among young adults are attributed to traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, smoking cigarettes and diabetes.

Stroke risk factors and prevention

Hypertension is the most important modifiable risk factor for stroke in Africa. Other significant ischaemic stroke risk factors which can be mitigated are:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • being overweight or obese
  • chronic stress
  • high cholesterol
  • tobacco smoking
  • drinking alcohol excessively
  • physical inactivity
  • unhealthy diet

Making healthy lifestyle changes can help significantly lower the risk of stroke. Here are some factors that may lead to stroke and how to prevent that from happening:

Blood pressure – keep it within the normal range and monitor closely.

Smokingquit to reduce the risk of clogged arteries, which could lead to ischaemic stroke.

Blood glucose – keep it within the normal range and get regular tests.

Cholesterol – keep it within the normal range and know your numbers.

Weight – lose weight, if necessary, and learn to maintain a healthy weight.

Activityget moving. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 5 days a week.

Diet – eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Stress – understand your stress triggers and learn to counter stress with calming activities like a nature walk, exercise, connecting with a friend, or doing something fun or creative.

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a healthcare professional. E&OE. Life Healthcare Group Ltd does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by the reader as a result of the information provided.