Strokes on the rise among young people, doctors say
People aged 20 to 59 are having more strokes because of poorer diets and less active lifestyles, according to experts.
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Evan Mudryk was only 20 years old when a stroke changed his life forever.
Mudryk, now 27, was at the Sherlock Holmes Pub celebrating the centennial anniversary of the University of Alberta newspaper in 2010 when he decided to order another drink.
The look the bartender gave him is one he won’t forget.
“He said you’ve had quite enough. Which was weird,” Mudryk recalled, considering he hadn’t drank much at all.
It was at that point a colleague noticed Mudryk was drooling. His face was also drooping. When he went outside to get some fresh air, he tripped, hit the ground and was paralyzed.
He later woke up in the hospital.
Strokes are often associated with older individuals, but recent statistics from the Heart and Stroke Foundation show that stroke among younger adults, defined as between 20 and 59, is on the rise at a faster rate than older adults.
Today 19 per cent of hospital admissions for strokes are for younger adult patients between 20 and 59. A new stroke happens in about one in 10,000 young adults under 64.
Mudryk’s stroke was caused by a blood vessel abnormality called Arterial Venous Malformation. It affects less than one per cent of the population, but there’s no way to tell you have it without a CT scan.
“I would have never known … it’s totally random. There’s no symptoms,” Mudryk said.
It’s why he’s writing a book about his ordeal, and encouraging everyone to know the signs of stroke, which can be remembered by the acronym FAST: Face, Arms, Speech and Time. When someone is having a stroke they tend to have a droopy face, drifting arms and slurred speech.
Dr. Michael Hill, a professor of neurology at the University of Calgary, said it’s important to note that strokes happen at all ages. He said part of the explanation for more incidences of stroke among young adults is that improvements in diagnostic technology can recognize a stroke with greater accuracy these days.
But there’s also a clear rise in strokes among young adults.
“It is definitely true we’re seeing proportionally more strokes in young people than we did in the past,” Hill said.
This is associated with broad trends in the population, particularly a lack of exercise and bad diets, he said.
“We have more people who are unfit and overweight than we’ve ever had before,” Hill said. “And we see it a lot in the young folks — they’re not as active, they're not maintaining a proper weight, and that leads to things like hypertension and diabetes. And those are major risk factors for stroke.”
Wider use of illicit drugs in society is also increasing the incidence of strokes, Hill said. Drugs from marijuana to heroin and alcohol are all associated with increased risk of stroke.
“It appears to apply broadly to many illicit drugs,” Hill said.
On the plus side, cigarette smoking, another major risk factor for stroke, is far less common than it was previously.
Stroke is typically seen as a condition that affects older people because it’s true; the chance of having a stroke is much higher for those over 80. But young adults should still recognize the signs of stroke, because it can occur unexpectedly, Hill said.
The good news is young adults have a good chance of returning to a normal life after a stroke.
“There’s a lot of improvement at that age, absolutely, so it is more hopeful,” Hill said. “I’ve seen some amazing recoveries in 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds.”
Although his stroke forced him to have to relearn everything, Mudryk is full of hope and hopes that other stroke survivors take that message to heart.
“To start all over, it was terrible … but I could be dead. So I’m so thankful I’m living the high life, I’m on cloud nine. And I keep on going.”