Last week, the world lost a young man who was loved by so many. Luke Perry's passing is a reminder that strokes are not exclusively reserved for older adults. It may be a sobering thought but Generation X and Y are not immune. According to the American Stroke Association, strokes are the number two common cause of death worldwide. It is the number five cause of death and leading cause of disability in the USA.
Whether you are a millennial, part of generation X, generation Z, or a baby boomer, here are three things everyone should know.
1. Strokes DO happen to YOUNG People
Strokes affect young people and the rate is increasing. When a large stroke happens, there is often brain swelling and that pressure needs somewhere to go. Our brains shrink as we age but for a younger person experiencing a stroke, the brain has not shrunk as much so the swelling and pressure have nowhere to go. The brain gets compressed and this can lead to death.
This was the reason why I had to have emergency brain surgery at age 29 — the pressure in my brain was building up so fast that if they did not do surgery to alleviate the pressure in my brain, I would have died.
2. Strokes DO happen even if you DON'T have risk factors
Risk factors for a stroke includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and diabetes. One in three U.S. adults has at least one of these conditions or habits. You can protect yourself by taking action against these potential risk factors.
But it is important to remember that you are not immune to having a stroke if you don't have any risk factors.
We did not connect the dots because the thought of a young, healthy active person having a stroke was the furthest thing from anyone's mind.
I did not have any risk factors, but I had a stroke.
3. Strokes are TREATABLE.
A helpful tool to remember signs of a stroke is the acronym F-A-S-T. If you experience any of these or see someone that is — call 9-1-1 immediately. Whether it is an ischemic stroke (blood clot) or hemorrhagic (blood vessel burst), a stroke means poor blood flow to the brain, resulting in cell death. Therefore, the faster you get help, the better. The brain controls everything so we need to stop brain cell death as fast as possible. Every second and minute counts.
F – Face: is it drooping on either side?
A - Arm: Can you raise both arms or is there weakness?
S – Speech: Is it jumbled, incoherent or slurred?
T - Time: Call 9-1-1 immediately
It is hard to fathom that a young person might be having a stroke, even if you see these signs. I'll illustrate. I woke up one morning and I couldn't feel my right arm (but just thought it was pins and needles and I slept funny. Meaning, I dismissed this sign). My sister noticed that when I tried to smile, it was a "half-smile" — my face was weak on the right side. I was also slurring my speech.
We did not connect the dots because the thought of a young, healthy active person having a stroke was the furthest thing from anyone's mind. Bottom line, a stroke can happen to anyone.
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Whether you personally experience any of these symptoms or see a fellow student, colleague, loved one or stranger that is, it is so important that you call 9-1-1 as fast as possible.
I thought I was invincible. Turns out, I was not. And neither are you. But you can arm yourself with knowledge and awareness.
CLARIFICATION: This blog has been updated to include generation X.
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