Why strokes can happen at any age and how to prevent them

Obesity, smoking and sedentary lifestyles have led to a rise in strokes among under 50s

Hailey Bieber, Kid Cudi and Frankie Muniz have all spoken about the strokes they suffered in their twenties and thirties. EPA; ATP; Wireimage
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Kid Cudi made headlines recently after revealing he suffered a stroke at the age of 32. The Girls rapper, now 38, shared his experiences of going to rehab for depression in 2016 and suffering a stroke two weeks into his stay.

Both his speech and movements became slower and the rapper, whose real name is Scott Mescudi, spent the next few months working on his physical rehabilitation, noting that it was almost a year before he felt like his brain was "strong".

Cudi joins a list of famous people who have shared their experiences of having a stroke, including Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke.

“Strokes, basically, as soon as any part of your brain doesn’t get blood for a second, it’s gone,” the British actress, who suffered two brain aneurysms in her 20s, said. “And so the blood finds a quicker, a different route to get around but then whatever bit it’s missing is therefore gone.

“The amount of my brain that is no longer usable, it’s remarkable that I am able to speak, sometimes articulately, and live my life completely normally with absolutely no repercussions. I am in the really, really, really small minority of people that can survive that.”

What is a stroke?

“Stroke is a decrease in blood supply that goes to special brain areas which leads to functional impairment of that special brain area,” says Dr Khalid Al-Saffar, specialist neurologist at Medcare. “The most important cause is arteriosclerosis which leads to gradually progressive brain blood vessels lumen narrowing and leading to less than the required blood volume needed for that brain area to function properly.”

Each year, 15 million people worldwide suffer a stroke, according to World Health Organisation statistics. From this number, about five million die, while another five million experience a permanent disability including paralysis, speech difficulty, loss of sight and confusion.

What are the most common causes of a stroke?

Obesity, diabetes and hypertension are among the main causes of strokes. Photo: Towfiqu Barbhuiya / Unsplash

“There are many factors like the ageing process, diseases like diabetes, hypertension, diseases that raise blood lipid, smoking, excess alcohol, systemic diseases that cause diseases of blood vessels like vasculitis, heart diseases that shower embolism to block blood vessels of the brain and blood diseases that lead to hyper viscosity of the blood,” says Dr Al-Saffar.

In adults, apart from existing medical conditions, the main causes of a stroke are high blood pressure, obesity and smoking. An unhealthy diet can increase the risk, as it can lead to higher cholesterol levels.

Are only older people at risk from strokes?

While strokes are usually associated with the elderly due their more sedentary lifestyles, the risk of stroke in the under 50s has increased. Photo: Harry Cao / Unsplash

“The elderly are less likely to be physically active and so more sedentary,” says Dr Ruhil Badiani, family physician at Cornerstone Clinic, Dubai. “The more risk factors a person has, the more likely they will suffer with a stroke and so elderly people are at higher risk.”

However, strokes can happen at any age. Babies can suffer from a stroke while still in the womb and children can also experience paediatric stroke, although it is much rarer than with adult stroke, affecting one in every 4,000 newborns and 2,000 older children each year, according to John Hopkins Medicine.

The circumstances leading to paediatric stroke are different to those which can cause a stroke in adults. For children, the main issues stem from heart disease, blood clotting disorders and sickle cell disease.

Younger people at risk

Malcom in the Middle actor Frankie Muniz, 36, has spoken about the many mini-strokes — known as a TIA, transient ischemic attack — which he has suffered throughout his life and the long-term memory loss they have caused.

“To be honest, I don't remember going to the Emmys when I was nominated," says Muniz, who has had 15 mini-strokes since he was 26. “I don't specifically remember being nominated, or what I felt, or what we did.”

“An ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke and is caused by a clot which stops the blood supply to the brain,” says Dr Ruhil. “It accounts for around 85 per cent of all cases. A haemorrhagic stroke is when a weakened blood vessel supplying blood to the brain bursts, affecting the blood supply to the brain.

“Transient ischemic attacks are a related condition where the blood supply to the brain is temporarily interrupted lasting a few minutes to 24 hours. It can be a sign of a full stroke in the near future.”

In February 2020, a study published in the journal Stroke showed that between 10 and 15 per cent of strokes occur in people aged 18 to 50. Medical experts deem a young stroke age to be under 45.

One of the biggest causes of strokes in younger people is obesity.

“Stroke incidents becomes more in young population because of increasing bad dietary habits like junk food, smoking, sedentary life and stress,” says Dr Al-Saffar.

Experts suggest following a diet low in fat and high in wholegrains, as well as fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods, which tend to be high in salt.

How to recognise the signs of a stroke

Justin Bieber’s wife Hailey Bieber, 25, has spoken about the mini-stroke she suffered in April.

Noting a “weird sensation” in her right arm and numbness in her fingertips, in a video shared to social media the model said that she “couldn't speak.”

“The right side of my face started drooping, I couldn't get a sentence out,” she said. “Immediately, I thought I was having a stroke.”

“The acronym FAST is the best way to recognise the symptoms of stroke,” says Dr Ruhil. “F for face drooping or asymmetry, A for arm weakness, S for speech difficulty, T for time to call 998.

“Make sure to call for an ambulance if you think you are suffering from a stroke. Time lost is brain lost.”

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Updated: August 24, 2022, 5:15 AM
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