Stroke in younger adults

Causes in those under age 50 may be different than in the elderly


Use FAST to identify stroke signs: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911.

Stroke occurs more often in the elderly, but those under the age of 50 can also experience a stroke. For this population, a stroke can present considerable challenges, particularly if the person is the parent of young children or the primary breadwinner for the family.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. Without oxygen from the blood, that part of the brain starts to die. The part of the body controlled by the damaged area of the brain then stops working properly, leading to symptoms such as weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking.

Stroke in younger victims more likely to have different causes

The cause of stroke in younger adults (under age 50), like the elderly, can sometimes be traced to risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes or smoking. But younger stroke victims may be more likely to have different causes of stroke, such as a congenital heart condition. A stroke can also be the result of an injury to a blood vessel from trauma, such as a car accident, blow to the head or twisting of the neck. In these cases, a stroke may occur immediately after the event or several weeks later.

Other, more rare causes of stroke in younger individuals may include autoimmune conditions that result in inflammation in the blood vessels, blood clotting issues and certain inherited conditions.

Take steps to minimize your risk

While risk factors for stroke are well known, it is sometimes difficult to identify the exact cause. Fortunately, there are many ways to lower your risk for stroke:

  • Know your blood pressure numbers. High blood pressure is the most important modifiable risk factor for stroke. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, follow the treatment recommended by your healthcare professional. Treatment may include blood pressure lowering medication as well as other techniques, including regular exercise and a healthy diet.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Stop smoking.
  • If you have diabetes, be sure you are being treated by a healthcare provider and are complying with treatment recommendations.

Use FAST to identify stroke signs

According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, “F.A.S.T.” is an effective way to identify the signs of stroke:

Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?

Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

Time to call 9-1-1: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Other stroke symptoms

Other symptoms to be aware of:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the leg
  • Sudden confusion or trouble 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

If someone shows any of these symptoms, immediately call 911 or emergency medical services.

Dr. Darin B. Zahuranec

Darin B. Zahuranec, M.D., is an assistant professor of neurology in the University of Michigan Medical School. He is board certified in neurology and vascular neurology and specializes in stroke diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

View Dr. Zahuranec’s physician profile.

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