Last year, my husband, who is a rehabilitation medicine specialist, told me that his youngest stroke patient was a 28-year-old man.
If that sounds depressing to you, imagine my shock when my husband came home this week and told me that his new stroke patient is a 9-year-old girl!
No longer confined to persons in their 50s and 60s, stroke in the young now seems to be a universal trend.
The Wayne State Stroke Program in Michigan conducted a survey in their facility which revealed the increasing trend of stroke in the young from 354 cases in 2001 to 1,237 in 2009.
What is stroke?
Stroke is the loss of brain function when the blood supply to this area is blocked.
This can be due to a blood clot that gets trapped in a blood vessel that has already become narrow due to fat and cholesterol sticking to the walls of the arteries.
Stroke can also happen when a blood vessel in the brain becomes weak and it ruptures. High blood pressure or hypertension is the number one risk factor for stroke.
The role of hypertension
If younger people are falling prey to stroke, then it follows that they are also afflicted with the condition’s number one risk factor.
Dr. Cheryl L. Tran of the University of Michigan reports a doubling of hospitalization for elevated blood pressure among children from 12,661 in 1997 to 24,602 in 2006.
The patients affected were mostly male between the ages of 10-18. Many of these hypertensive youngsters were obese. In one-third of the cases, there was already damage to the heart muscles by the time they were seen by a physician.
7 ways to prevent stroke
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed the following suggestions on how to prevent stroke, whether you are young or old:
1. Manage stress.
A person's emotional and psychological condition can affect physical health. Even children have problems, too. Talk to your kids about school, friends and bullying. Addressing anger, stress and depression can lead to improved cardiovascular health.
2. Avoid soda and caffeinated drinks.
These may contribute to elevated heart rate and disturbed sleep and aggravate an already burdened heart. Have kids opt for fruit juices instead of soda and encourage them to drink water throughout the day. Be sure to have them bring a water jug to school. Sometimes, when there is nothing else to drink, kids turn to carbonated drinks.
3. Get away from electronic screens.
As a parent, you’ll play a role in prying your kids away from the TV, laptop, hand-held game, tablet or smartphone. Embark on an outdoor activity together—whether it is a sport that you and your child can play together like badminton or simply walking up and down your street after dinner.
4. Even children have to watch their diet.
Encourage healthy choices at a young age. Choosing brown rice over white rice should not start when one is already suffering from diabetes and hypertension. Start them early, knowing which foods are good for the body.
5. Invest in a blood pressure machine at home.
Daily monitoring of all members of the household can prevent serious complications when hypertension is undetected. Knowing is half the battle.
6. Do not ignore simple complaints.
Take note of frequent headaches, feelings of weakness and tiredness, difficulties in reading or doing schoolwork. Mind, too, the incidence of falling or minor accidents at home and in school. These may be subtle signs of a serious problem like hypertension. Visit your doctor. Even if your child is given the all-clear, your kid will feel important and cared for because you took the time to listen to how he or she feels. Sometimes these problems also allow you to discover eye defects, vitamin deficiency and even malnutrition.
7. See a doctor at least once a year.
Some people bring their children to the pediatrician only when they are sick. Visiting a physician for a wellness check-up saves a lot more money than being admitted to the hospital because your child is already sick. Routine vaccination, physical examination especially for children entering puberty, and even having your child’s weight, height and blood pressure checked can make you aware of a problem way before it gets out of hand.
Dr. Diana Sarmiento is a mother of three, part-time doctor, and a full-time wife and mother. The topics closest to her heart are women’s health, parenting, and any new information that she can get her hands on. Read more on her personal blog, Filipina M.D.
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