For most Batswana who believe stroke is a grand ma and pa problem, Oapeleng Phuswane-Katse, a physician with the Ministry of Health just made a sobering prognosis: “Most young people aren’t aware of the very numbers that could put them at a higher risk of stroke that is because most young adults are blowing off certain screening tests, believing that they don’t need to be done until you’re older, such as tests for cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Those screening tests can give physicians a good idea about stroke risk. Strokes is no longer just your grandma and grandpa’s concern. An increasing number of not-yet-middle aged people are having strokes too.”
Although stroke risk doubles every decade after age 55 and most strokes occur in people over the age of 65, a stroke can happen to anyone of any age at any time. The problem is, 20-, 30- and 40-year-olds think they’re young and that these risk factors don’t affect them.
For most young people, the chance of having a stroke seems like an impossibility but there is no such thing as being too young for a stroke. It is true that your stroke risk increases with age, but strokes in young people even infants, children, and adolescents does happen. The type of strokes that are seen in younger people are typically different from what doctors see in older patients. There are certain heart-related problems that seem to be the causes of strokes in young people that seem to be less of a cause as we get older, many young people are unaware they have an underlying condition that contributes to stroke until they have one. The kind of stroke that seems to be on the rise is ischemic stroke.
Ischemic strokes are the most common form of stroke and happen when a blockage cuts off blood supply to the brain. Much less common are haemorrhagic strokes, which are caused by burst blood vessels in the brain. Many of these risk factors are associated with poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. But strokes in the young can also be attributed to use of drugs like cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine. A young person’s recovery process from stroke differs from an older person’s recovery. While younger adults may be able to bounce back from a stroke better in the long term, they may face greater danger in the short term. Because the human brain shrinks with age, a younger person has less room in the skull to accommodate the swelling of the brain that can result from a stroke. That means surgeons may have to remove a part of the patient’s skull and keep it off for weeks.
Oapeleng Phuswane-Katse says “a lot of younger people ignore stroke symptoms because they think they are too young or too healthy. Knowing the warning signs and seeking help right away can prevent a stroke from limiting your future productivity. Usually, one side of the body is affected as a stroke is happening in the brain, making someone’s face on that side sag, and leading to problems with raising that side’s arm. Slurred or confused speech is common as well, since a stroke may be affecting memory and verbal abilities.”
Many 20-40 year olds assume they are healthy, not considering they could have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, which are both risk factors for a stroke if they’re not under control. Stroke risk also skews unfavourably for women. One in five has a stroke, and it’s the No. 4 cause of death in women. Pregnancy and using birth control, along with menopause later in life, can all increase women’s risk of developing high blood pressure, a leading cause of stroke. If you had high blood pressure during pregnancy, for example, you are at an increased risk for developing high blood pressure and having a stroke later in life. Higher numbers of young people having strokes can be attributed to a collection of lifestyle risk factors, like smoking, drinking and physical inactivity, as well as chronic issues like obesity, uncontrolled high blood pressure and diabetes. In addition, many younger people don’t see a primary care physician for regular check-ups, labs and blood pressure checks. These annual visits are key to catching issues before they progress.
Dr Poloko Ntswarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says“People tend to shake off these signs of strokes because we have all had numbness from sleeping in a funny position, or sitting on a leg wrong, leading to that sudden dead feeling. In those kinds of moments, the nerves get compressed and when they’re released, the numbness should turn very quickly to that ouch-ouch-ouch tingle of your limb coming back online. With stroke, though, there’s numbness without pain. Women having a stroke are also more likely to have debilitating headaches, and that people who suffer from regular migraines are actually at greater risk for strokes in general. Even hiccups that don’t resolve could be a stroke symptom.”