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More young people are having strokes. A doctor shares 3 ways to help prevent them.

Kim Schewitz   

More young people are having strokes. A doctor shares 3 ways to help prevent them.
  • More young adults are having strokes, according to the CDC.
  • Keeping risk factors such as high blood pressure under control can lower the risk.

Over the past decade, the number of young adults having strokes has risen, according to new data from the CDC. A neurologist shared three ways to reduce the risk.

Strokes, which occur when a part of the brain doesn't have enough blood flow, are life-threatening and most common in older people. But strokes in people under 65 increased by around 15% in the US from 2011 - 2013 to 2020 - 2022, the study, published May 23, found. This corresponds with a rise in cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity among younger, working-age adults, it said.

If brain cells go too long without oxygen, they die, which can lead to permanent damage and the loss of certain abilities like speech or sight, according to The Cleveland Clinic. That's why acting fast and educating the public about stroke risk factors are crucial, the study said.

The fifth leading cause of death in the US in 2021, stroke also cost the country about $56.2 billion between 2019 and 2020, according to the CDC.

Researchers are working to uncover what's behind the uptick in strokes among younger adults, but possible factors could include pollution and stress, Dr. Neshika Samarasekera, a clinical neurologist, researcher, and senior clinical lecturer at the charity Stroke Association, told Business Insider.

The study highlighted obesity rates and the opioid epidemic as potential causes too.

While stroke can affect anyone at any age, there are things you can do to lower the risk, she said.

Stop smoking

"Firstly, if you're smoking, stop," Samarasekera said.

Smokers are around three times more likely to have a stroke than non-smokers, and twice as likely to die from a stroke, according to the Stroke Association. This is because tobacco smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals that, when inhaled, enter the bloodstream and damage cells all around the body.

Smoking can reduce oxygen levels in the blood, increase blood pressure, trigger atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat, raise levels of 'bad' cholesterol, and raise the risk of a blood clot, according to the charity. These are all known stroke risk factors.

Some risk factors, such as age and genetic disposition, are out of our control so it's important that we try to reduce the ones we can control, Samarasekera said.

Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day

Eating a healthy diet can help reduce stroke by keeping risk factors under control.

Samarasekera recommended eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with a focus on colorful vegetables such as broccoli and carrots, which are packed with antioxidants.

There's evidence to suggest that inflammation plays a role in causing stroke, and "antioxidants, put simply, help to mop up that inflammation," she said. They are also nutrient-dense and contain dietary fiber.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting ultra-processed foods, alcohol, and foods with lots of added sugar and salt.

Get your heart rate up every day

Samarasekera said that ideally, everyone should aim to do 30 minutes of moderate exercise that gets their heart rate up each day.

"Something that does visibly increase your heart rate, be that brisk walking, be that running," she said.

Aim to up your heart rate in a "graded way," she said: "you don't want people going from zero to really pushing themselves."

Doing 30 minutes of exercise five times a week is thought to reduce the risk of stroke by 25%, according to the World Stroke Organization.

This is because it plays an important role in reducing several stroke risk factors, including hypertension, diabetes, and cholesterol.

The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week.

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