For much of the 20th century, stroke as a cause of death was ranked third in the US, dropping to fifth place by 2007. Researchers believe this is the result of better control of high blood pressure, anticoagulants to dissolve or reduce clots, aspirin as a preventative for clots, and improved care programs. Though progress has been made in reducing stroke mortality in the elderly (those over 65), the occurrence of stroke in younger people (ages 18-64) has been increasing. Research shows there are some health factors that may make a younger person more susceptible to a stroke. Let’s review the typical risk factors, the unusual risk factors for younger adults, and how to reduce your risk of stroke.
Risk Factors for Stroke
The traditional risk factors for stroke include smoking, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Finnish researchers reported that among the elderly, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure were the most common causes of strokes, but in younger people, the most common risk factors were smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. These same risk factors for stroke in younger people were found in participants living in other parts of Europe, China, and New Zealand. This dispels the myth that stroke risk factors vary based on geographic location, nutrition, culture, and genetic diversity. However, other research has found that Hispanic and African-Americans have almost twice the risk of stroke as white Americans, primarily due to untreated high blood pressure.
Additional Stroke Risk Factors for Younger Adults
There are also other factors which might explain the increased incidence of stroke among younger adults:
- Illicit Drug Use
- Birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy (for women who smoke)
- A congenital heart defect or clotting disorder
- A dissection (or a tear in a blood vessel which creates a small clot)
- Migraine with aura
Cleveland Clinic stroke specialist Gabor Toth, M.D. says that “In most cases, it’s easier to prevent stroke than it is to treat it.” By focusing on reducing risk factors for stroke, you can also decrease the likelihood of stroke at any age.
How to Decrease Stroke Risk Factors at Any Age
Addressing the most common risk factors first makes the most sense. High blood pressure (or hypertension) is the primary risk factor which plays a role in over half the stroke occurrences worldwide. Other risk factors, such as obesity, smoking, and high cholesterol, seem to be interrelated, so removing one (like smoking) will likely result in improvement in the others. Researchers emphasize “therapeutic lifestyle changes” which might include moderate exercise and eating more healthfully with increased servings of vegetables and fruits and decreased salt and alcohol consumption.
Though a stroke is a serious, even life-threatening, condition, it is also preventable. Younger adults need to be aware that strokes are not limited to the elderly, and by taking charge of their health early, they can minimize their stroke risk. Doctorpedia supports you as you talk to your doctor about the best way to minimize your risk of stroke!
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.