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  • Strokes among those younger than 55 are a growing phenomenon

    Published: 01/02/2013


    Philly.com first of two parts on strokes in younger people. The second part will appear next Monday in Health & Science.

    Brent Wylie was arguing with the doctors in the emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. They said he had just had a stroke; he insisted that he had had a few beers and was probably drunk. That's why he had fallen on the sidewalk and was slurring his words.

    "I had just graduated from college two months earlier, and I was totally healthy," Wylie, then 23, said. "Strokes didn't happen to people like me."

    But Wylie was stunned to learn that he was one of a fast-growing group - men and women under 55 who suffer cerebral vascular accidents, the medical term for strokes. In fact, according to work by Brett Kissela, vice chair of neurology at the University of Cincinnati, the rate of strokes among adults younger than 55, though still uncommon, rose by more than 60 percent between 1993 and 2005. Kissela's research focused on Ohio and Kentucky, but he said the findings "likely reflect what's happening nationally."

    Another study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also showed that hospitalization rates for stroke increased by 30 percent for ages 15 to 34 and 37 percent for ages 35 to 44 from 1995 to 2008. In 2007-08 alone, there were more than 27,000 hospitalizations for the most common type of stroke among people 35 to 44.

    Heightened vigilance among physicians and better diagnostic methods such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) may contribute to the growing numbers. But Mary C. George, who led the CDC research, found that one in three patients ages 15 to 34 and more than half between 35 and 44 had high blood pressure; about one in four had diabetes. Smoking, obesity, and high cholesterol were common.

    Eighty percent of strokes - called ischemic - occur when blood to the brain is cut off. The remaining 20 percent are hemorrhagic strokes, often marked by an unbearable headache that is not a migraine, from bleeding inside the brain.

    Smoking thickens the blood, narrows blood vessels, and makes aneurysms rupture, says George C. Newman, director of the stroke program at Einstein Medical Center. High blood sugar from diabetes leaves extra sugars on the proteins and lipids that line blood vessels and impairs their function. Obesity and its frequent companion, sleep apnea, are risk factors because they raise blood pressure and reduce oxygen to the brain.

    (Read the whole article by Gloria Hochman on Philly.com here.)

  • Communications Team