February 26, 2008
Strokes are often thought of as something that affects
those who are in their 60s, 70s, or 80s, but people of
every age range can suffer strokes, and the rates among
women in their 30s - 50s are on the rise.
" 'Women ages 35 to 54 have higher stroke rates than men of
those ages, and this is likely due to increasing rates of
abdominal obesity,' says researcher Amytis Towfighi, MD, an
assistant professor of neurology at the University of
Southern California in Los Angeles. The study does not
prove cause-and-effect. But the researchers found that
traditional risk factors for stroke, such as smoking and
high blood pressure, are not increasing among middle-aged
women. That gives weight to their hefty hypothesis, says
Ralph Sacco, MD."
The hypothesis is that with increased weight is coming an
increased risk of stroke. Doctors are observing that as
waist sizes and Body Mass Index (BMI) numbers rise, so is
the stroke rate among women who are younger and younger.
Why is this a concern? While most people have heard of a
stroke, or may even know someone who has had one, not
everyone understands what it is.
"A stroke, or 'brain attack,' occurs when blood circulation
to the brain fails. Brain cells can die from decreased
blood flow and the resulting lack of oxygen. There are two
broad categories of stroke: those caused by a blockage of
blood flow and those caused by bleeding. While not usually
fatal, a blockage of a blood vessel in the brain or neck,
called an ischemic stroke, is the most frequent cause of
stroke and is responsible for about 80 percent of strokes."
Teens and young adults may not be concerned about their
stroke risk right now, but there are lifestyle choices that
people of all ages can make to reduce their risk. Whether
someone is in their teens, thirties, or sixties, it is
important that they talk with their doctor about any risk
factors and/or lifestyle changes that should be made.
"All people can take steps to lower their risk for stroke,
whether they have had a stroke or not. Things you can do to
lower the risk of stroke include steps to prevent and
control high blood pressure, heart disease, and other
- Prevent and control high blood pressure: High blood
pressure is easily checked. It can be controlled with
lifestyle changes and with medicines when needed. ...
- Prevent and control diabetes: People with diabetes have a
higher risk of stroke, but they can also work to reduce
their risk. ...
- No tobacco: Smoking can affect a number of things that
relate to risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and
- Treat atrial fibrillation: Atrial fibrillation is an
irregular beating of the heart. It can cause clots that can
lead to stroke. ...
- Prevent and control high blood cholesterol: High blood
cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, which
can increase the risk for stroke. ...
- Moderate alcohol use: Excessive alcohol use can increase
the risk of high blood pressure. People who drink should do
so in moderation. ...
- Maintain a healthy weight: Healthy weight status in
adults is usually assessed by using weight and height to
compute a number called the 'body mass index' (BMI). ...
- Regular Physical Activity: The Surgeon General recommends
that adults should engage in moderate level physical
activities for at least 30 minutes on most days of the
- Diet and nutrition: Along with healthy weight and regular
physical activity, an overall healthy diet can help to
lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. ...
- Genetic Risk Factors: Stroke can run in families. Genes
play a role in stroke risk factors such as high blood
pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and vascular conditions.
While prevention is key, not all strokes will be prevented.
When a stroke does occur, it is essential that those around
know what the signs of a stroke are so that they can get
medical attention as soon as possible.
"Someone affected by stroke might have difficulty speaking,
lose the ability to lift their arms or walk, have
difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, experience numbness
or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, and can quickly lose
consciousness. Quick action and medical attention can
minimize permanent brain damage and potentially save
The signs of someone having a stroke can range from subtle
to obvious, but the person having the stroke can be
completely unaware that anything is wrong. Whether minor or
severe, every minute counts. The sooner a patient receives
treatment for a stroke, the more likely they are to reduce
the amount of long-term damage that it is allowed to do.
"Stroke is a medical emergency. Every minute counts when
someone is having a stroke. The longer blood flow is cut
off to the brain, the greater the damage. Immediate
treatment can save people's lives and enhance their chances
for successful recovery. ... Ischemic strokes, the most
common type of strokes, can be treated with a drug called
t-PA, that dissolves blood clots obstructing blood flow to
the brain. The window of opportunity to start treating
stroke patients is three hours, but to be evaluated and
receive treatment, patients need to get to the hospital
within 60 minutes. ... A five-year study by the National
Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
found that some stroke patients who received t-PA within
three hours of the start of stroke symptoms were at least
30 percent more likely to recover with little or no
disability after three months."
Questions of the Week:
What should you and your peers know about what a stroke is
and what your risk factors are? In what ways might this
vary from what your parents or grandparents need to know?
In what ways is it is the same? Why is it important for
people of all ages to make lifestyle choices that can
reduce their risk of having a stroke? Why is it important
that people of all ages and levels of health know how to
detect when someone else is having a stroke? How would you
educate your peers and family members about what they need
to know about strokes?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum