Conventionally, stroke was predominantly the disease of the elderly population. But the past decade has seen a significant shift in this age trend with an increased incidence of stroke among young adults. Studies quote an approximately 10 per cent to 14 per cent rise in stroke in individuals aged 45 and younger, making it an alarming health concern.
There is often a lot of emphasis on the traditional risk factors — cardiovascular issues like arrhythmias, lipid disorders, obesity, diabetes, smoking, drinking and physical inactivity — contributing to nearly 50 per cent of stroke cases. However, very little is spoken about the non-traditional risk factors such as sleep apnea (obstructive and non-obstructive), stress, migraine, substance abuse, insomnia, and depression causing stroke in about 40 per cent to 50 per cent of cases. Additionally, exposure to environmental pollution has emerged as a new risk factor for stroke. In young adults, non-traditional risk factors (particularly stress) and environmental pollution are being identified as the emerging causes of stroke.
How does stress cause a stroke?
Long-term exposure to intense psychological stress can initiate a cascade of events:
· Interference with the neuroendocrine functions and stimulating the body to produce more stress hormones.
· Triggering several inflammatory reactions in the body.
· Destroying the lining of the blood vessels, leading to abnormalities such as calcium deposits within the vessels.
· Creating a favourable environment for clot formation in the blood vessels by triggering platelet activation and aggregation.
How does environmental pollution cause a stroke?
Polluted or ambient air consists of nanoparticles, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone and nitrogen dioxide.
· Inflammation, oxidative stress, and lipid modification: When we breathe in dirty air, tiny particles can cause our lungs to become inflamed and spread to the rest of our body and affect our heart and blood vessels.
· Translocation of nanoparticles: Some extremely small particles in the polluted air can get into our bloodstream directly by passing through the lungs’ barrier and affecting blood vessels supplying the brain.
· Autonomic dysfunction: Breathing in these particles or the lung inflammation they cause can affect the nervous system, leading to changes in how our heart and blood vessels work, increasing the risk of conditions like atrial fibrillation, which is linked to stroke.
How to identify the signs of stroke?
Identifying the signs of stroke in young people is crucial as it helps in early treatment. The common signs include:
· Facial weakness presenting as sudden drooping of one side of the face or a lop-sided smile.
· Sudden inability to speak or slurred incoherent speech.
· Balance and coordination issues and unsteady movements.
· Visual disturbances including blurred vision or decreased vision.
· Limb weakness, difficulty moving limbs, especially the arms.
· Severe headaches.
In a few cases, some warning signs can appear up to a week before a stroke, including dizziness, chest pain and dyspnea (shortness of breath). These should be brought to healthcare professionals’ notice for further evaluation.
Tips to prevent stroke, especially in young people and all ages:
· Manage stress.
· Eat a healthy diet.
· Exercise regularly.
· Reduce obesity and sleep problems.
· Monitor and manage your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
· Manage blood pressure and follow the DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) that implies reducing salt intake, including potassium-rich foods like sweet potatoes and bananas in your daily diet, replacing unhealthy fats with heart-friendly omega-3-rich foods like fish and walnuts.
· Avoid smoking.
· Limit alcohol consumption.
· Get regular health check-ups and follow your doctor’s advice.