Health

Strokes are up among young people but few know what to look for

Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center asked people under 45 what they would do in the first three hours after experiencing numbness or difficulty speaking or seeing. Seventy-three percent of the respondents said they would likely wait to see if they felt better before seeking treatment.
Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center asked people under 45 what they would do in the first three hours after experiencing numbness or difficulty speaking or seeing. Seventy-three percent of the respondents said they would likely wait to see if they felt better before seeking treatment.
Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

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Significant numbers of younger people have strokes, but a new survey suggests that they  don't seek help quickly enough because they don't recognize what's happening.

A national survey conducted by Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center asked people under 45 what they would do if they experienced numbness, difficulty seeing or speaking or a severe headache - all stroke symptoms. Nearly three out of four - 73 percent - said they would wait to see if the symptoms improved before going to a hospital.

Dr. David Liebeskind, who led the survey, says the results are alarming because the number of strokes among those under 45 is on the rise and getting help right away is critical.

"Stroke symptoms ... are a trigger to seek urgent medical attention as soon as possible," says Liebeskind, who heads  outpatient stroke and neurovascular programs at UCLA Medical Center. "Stroke is not something you can handle yourself or treat at home."

Experts say it's crucial to get medical care within three hours of experiencing the first stroke symptom; that's the "golden window" during which treatment can minimize or even reverse brain damage. 

According to a 2013 study published in Neurology, approximately 15 percent of ischemic strokes - the most common type of stroke - affect those 49 and under of European ancestry. The rate for African-Americans and Latinos is higher.

The Neurology study found that even when younger patients do go to a hospital, they may not be diagnosed right away with a stroke because of their age.

Several factors contribute to the increase in strokes among young people, including the ability of doctors to detect strokes earlier and genetic and environmental factors that contribute to strokes such as diet and lack of exercise, Liebeskind says.

He says more education is needed for young people – so they know they are at risk, can identify stroke symptoms and understand the importance of getting help right away.