a fun night out with her girlfriends late last year, Bianca
Cooper arrived home with a "killer" headache.
wasnít all that unusual, but she soon started to lose
feeling on her left side and was unable to walk. She knew
something wasnít right. She called her girlfriend.
think Iím having a stroke," she told her.
was 29 and as far as she knew as healthy and strong as an
experience, however, is a powerful reminder that strokes are
increasingly occurring in young people. In fact, Georgia
Hospital Association figures show that roughly the same number
of people under 65 as over 65 experienced strokes each year.
at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta say the trend, while in some
respects is surprising, is visible among the patients they
treat. The number of young stroke patients aged 15-40 admitted
to the Shepherd Center has tripled in the past eight years.
centerís rehabilitation program for younger patients takes a
more aggressive approach than general stroke programs, which
typically treat older patients. Shepherd patients participate
in more hours of therapy and training, and the intensity level
of the therapy is greater.
is typically thought of as something that affects older
people, but more and more young people are having them and we
see that time and again reflected in the patients we
admit," said Dr. Ford Vox, a staff physician at Shepherd.
"Here the average age of patients in our stroke program
attributes much of the increase to Americansí sedentary
would not have happened 30 years ago," he said. "Weíre
eating more processed foods, more salts and reaping the fruits
of that. Problems that used to develop in older adults such as
high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, weíre now seeing
in people as young as 14."
specializes in brain injury rehabilitation medicine, said the
main driver of these strokes is hypertension, and any point
above normal ó 120 over 80 ó significantly increases the
risk for stroke.
there is some debate about how vigorously hypertension should
be treated, Vox maintains doctors should err on the side of
with diabetes and obesity, both of which, he said, suggest
problems with patientsí vascular system.
instance, Vox said, diabetes, which people think of simply as
elevated sugar, damages the bodyís cardiovascular system.
there are plenty of strokes that canít be prevented, such as
a carotid artery dissection, which can occur spontaneously or
because of trauma to the body.
wants to know why it happens, but we donít always have an
answer for that," Vox said. "We have seen many cases
of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which in some cases is
due to a patientís blood clotting too easily. It can also
occur in patients who donít have that problem."
is typically defined as either ischemic or hemorrhagic, Vox
said. Ischemic strokes, caused by a blockage in an artery, are
by far the more common type, causing over 80 percent of all
strokes. Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by a tear in the
arteryís wall that produces bleeding into or around the
never saw hers coming, and neither did Wes Varda.
moment he was hitting the snooze button on his alarm clock,
Varda said, "and the next thing I knew I was in
in December 2008. He was 31. He worked out three or four times
a week. He didnít smoke or drink.
was in great shape," he said.
the stroke, caused by a hole in his heart, Varda said he had
to relearn everything. How to walk and talk. How to feed
himself. And even what a stroke was.
knew the word but thatís about all," he said.
months of intensive therapy at Shepherd, Varda, now 37, is
back at work as a construction services buyer, living on his
own and driving. Every Monday for the past five years, he has
come back to Shepherd, where he volunteers.
the patients, he says, has made him realize how lucky he is.
didnít know how devastating it could be," he said.
"Now I see it all the time. I see the struggles."
consequences of a stroke, the type of functions affected, and
the severity, Vox said, depend on where in the brain it has
occurred and how much brain tissue has been lost or damaged.
people can have a stroke in the same part of the brain, and
one can lose more brain tissue," he said for instance.
addition, he said, one medical problem can cascade into many,
including pneumonia and muscle wasting, which impacts both a
patientís length of stay in a hospital and his
told Cooper she had had a massive hemorrhage on her brain. Her
entire left side was paralyzed.
week at Kennestone Hospital, she was transferred to the
months later, she said, "I still have deficits but Iím
pretty sure footed. I still have balance issues but I can
walk. I donít drool anymore."
that she could have a stroke at age 29, Cooper said, is still
shocking. "I knew it could happen, but you hear about
them more ini older people," she said.
observe these signs, call 911 immediately.
The smile is not equal or one side droops.
The person cannot raise both arms equally.
ó There may be sudden slurring of speech or inability to
talk and swallow.
The time lost is brain lost. Think "Brain Attack"
like heart attack.
or weakness on one side of the face, arms or legs
balance or trouble walking
WITH STROKE ó SOME RESOURCES
Injury Peer Visitor Association, www.braininjurypeervisitor.org
Stroke Association, www.stroke.org
Stroke Association, www.strokeassociation.com
Brain Attack Coalition, www.stroke-site.org
Aphasia Association, www.aphasia.org
Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, www.ninds.nih.gov