This Isn't Just an Old Folks Problem Anymore

Most people think it's an "old folks" problem...

But in 2017, Noelia Gutierrez and her family found out the hard way that it's not...

It seemed like a normal day. Gutierrez was enjoying a sushi lunch in the kitchen with her mother and holding her eight-day-old baby. Then suddenly, she felt a pain in her head like nothing she'd experienced before – a fire-hot sensation. And then, her right side started to tingle.

Gutierrez quickly handed her newborn over to her mother and dialed 911. While on the phone with paramedics, she began to shake. It became clear to the paramedics that Gutierrez was having a stroke, and she was rushed to a specialized stroke treatment center near her home in Miramar, Florida.

Gutierrez was just 29 years old at the time of her stroke. Fortunately, a lifesaving thrombectomy removed the blood clot causing her stroke in the hospital. And after two weeks in the hospital, two weeks at an in-patient rehabilitation facility, and two months of outpatient rehabilitation therapy, Gutierrez was 80% recovered.

Turns out, strokes are becoming more common in younger people.

According to a 2021 analysis of the 2019 Global Burden of Disease Study, the rates of stroke incidence in folks over age 70 decreased by 17% from 1990 to 2019. However, for folks under age 70, the rates of stroke incidence went up by 15% during that same period of time.

Strokes progress rapidly. It's important to get medical attention right away if you are having a stroke. So in an effort to keep you and your loved ones informed, we're answering some common questions about strokes.

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when a part of your brain stops getting oxygen from its blood supply. Essentially, the blood vessel feeding that section gets blocked. And without oxygen, your brain cells die.

Strokes can cause brain damage, disability, and death. That's why emergency care is required for any stroke event.

Are there different types of strokes?

Yes. There are two main types of stroke. An ischemic stroke is the most common, accounting for about 87% of all strokes. "Ischemic" means there's a blockage, usually from a blood clot. That closes off the blood vessel and prevents the blood – and the oxygen in your blood – from reaching your brain tissue.

The other type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke. This happens when a weak blood vessel breaks open, or "hemorrhages." Not only does your brain tissue not get the blood it needs, but the leaked blood can start to compress surrounding areas and cause more damage.

What are "mini" strokes?

So-called "mini" strokes are transient ischemic attacks, or "TIAs." These happen when you have a partial clot or a blockage that only cuts off blood flow briefly.

TIAs only cause symptoms for a short period of time, which makes folks tend to ignore them. Symptoms include sudden numbness in the face, arm, or leg. Other symptoms include issues with sight, speech, balance, as well as dizziness.

TIAs should not be ignored because they're often the precursors to full strokes. According to the American Heart Association, about one-third of American adults have had TIA symptoms, but only 3% ever call 911. Worse, about a third of folks who experience a TIA and don't get proper treatment have a major stroke within one year.

How do I know if I'm having a stroke?

The American Heart Association has a great mnemonic device I want you to memorize: BE FAST.

Balance lost
Eyesight blurry
Face drooping
Arm weakness
Speech difficulty
Time to call 911

Check these symptoms in someone you think may be having a stroke. Ask them to speak and to stick out their tongue – that may help determine facial issues like drooping or signs of slurred speech. Asking them to raise both arms is a good measure for coordination and arm strength.

Eyesight might also change, so ask if they can see clearly in both eyes. Trouble eating, swallowing, or feeling confused all indicate a stroke as well. If someone is having a stroke, get them to lie on their side with their head slightly elevated and loosen any tight clothing. This position promotes blood flow to the brain. Check their breathing and do not give them anything to eat or drink. Call 911 and get them to a hospital immediately.

If you believe you are having a stroke, don't drive. Call 911 and try to remain calm until help arrives.

Next Tuesday, we'll bring you more helpful information about how surviving a stroke might impact you. We'll also give you some tips on how to prevent a stroke from happening.

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What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 26, 2022