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Strokes in Young People: If the Signs Get Brushed Off, the Result Is Tragic

Stroke survivor Aubrey Plaza

If you’re in your 20s or 30s, the last thing on your mind is a stroke. But strokes happen in young people more often than you think. It’s important to know the signs of stroke and seek care right away. This medical emergency cuts off blood to your brain — either from a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, spinal cord, or eye. Ignoring the signs of stroke can lead to disaster.

The Damage Done by Strokes in Young People

If you don’t seek medical treatment right away, you could die or spend the rest of your life:

You Can't Sleep Off a Stroke

“A lot of young people may not know or recognize the signs of a stroke. Even when they are developing symptoms, their mindset is not, ‘This is a medical emergency. I need to call 911.’ Their thought is ‘My leg isn’t working. I’m going to sleep and it’s going to get better,’” says Necrisha Roach, MD, a vascular neurologist.

Going to bed when suddenly not feeling right because of a stroke is the worst thing you can do.

“Stroke treatment is all about time,” Roach says. “We can give patients medication that can help them make a full recovery. But they have to come to the hospital at least 3 to 4 1/2 hours from the time symptoms started in order to qualify for the medication.”

If you sleep it off and come in the next day, unfortunately there are no treatment options available. “At that point, we focus on managing symptoms and optimizing medication to reduce one's chances of having another stroke," says Roach, part of the team at UVA Health’s designated Comprehensive Stroke Center.

Roach shares, “I have two stroke patients in my clinic who are both under age 25. One is paralyzed from the waist down.” Her patient in the wheelchair was alone when her stroke symptoms started. She opted to go to bed instead of seeking medical attention. She ultimately suffered a stroke of the spinal cord.

Stroke survivor Skylar at Paris cafe
Skylar didn’t know young people could have a stroke until she had one at 24. Her friend recognized stroke signs and got her to the hospital right away. Seven years later, she was on her honeymoon in Paris.

A Stroke Success Story

Having a stroke is scary. But a full recovery is possible. Take Skylar Hudgins. Seven years ago, she was a fit 24-year-old University of Virginia alum working in Charlottesville. Her stroke struck out of the blue. A friend took her to the hospital immediately.

“I’m a prime example of what can happen when someone recognizes the signs of a stroke and gets treatment right away,” Skylar says. “It’s the reason I do all of this outreach to raise stroke awareness.”

Now living in Richmond, she got married last month and walked 10 miles a day in Paris while on her honeymoon. She’s about to start training for a half marathon.

Don’t Brush Off Strange, Sudden Symptoms

Stroke signs come on suddenly and for seemingly no reason. “With a stroke, all of a sudden something goes wrong,” Roach says.

Most often, it affects one side of the body. In your face, arm, or leg, you could feel:

Or a stroke can:

Why are stroke symptoms different in different people? It all depends on what part of the brain isn’t getting oxygen.

Your Nonverbal Teen or College Student Could Be in Danger

“An altered mental state is less likely to get recognized as a sign of stroke when it happens to a young adult or adolescent,” Roach notes. “No one thinks an 18- or 20-year-old is going to have a stroke. So if your adolescent is sleeping and not answering questions appropriately, you chalk it up as them just being a teenager or young adult who’s not engaged.”

At age 20, Aubrey Plaza’s stroke blocked blood to her brain’s language center. In an interview, she describes it as a ‘freak’ event. She suddenly had “expressive aphasia — where I could understand what’s happening, but I couldn’t talk or communicate. Like, you could say something, and I would know what you meant. But I couldn’t express it or even write it.”

Why Strokes in Young People Are on the Rise

Strokes are on the rise in young people. Why? More people are getting high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes at younger ages. These medical conditions are leading causes of stroke — especially when they’re not treated.

You can't feel high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Get checkups once a year, even if you feel healthy.

Young & Super Fit? You Can Still Have a Stroke

With Skylar’s stroke, her clot got stuck in the artery that supplies blood to the part of her brain controlling vision and balance. One evening after dinner out, she felt something pop inside her head. The room started spinning. She remembers saying, “‘Wow, I have vertigo.’ And my friend said, ‘Is this something you get?’ I said, ‘No.’ I sat back for a second and it passed. But a minute later, it came back far worse.”

Skylar’s friend noticed the left side of her face drooping and that her speech was slurred — classic stroke signs. He drove her to the nearest hospital 15 minutes away. By now, she was blind in one eye and partially paralyzed on her left side.

Do You Know the Signs of Stroke?

Get treatment right away if you notice BE FAST stroke symptoms.

Fast Treatment to Full Recovery

Doctors dissolved Skylar's clot. They located the stroke’s source (a tear in her neck artery). She left UVA hospital 48 hours later. She didn’t need any physical or occupational therapy.

“I’m so lucky that I had a friend, who recognized the symptoms that something was seriously wrong. If I had been by myself,” Skylar says, “I would have gone to sleep. I didn’t know a young adult could have a stroke.”

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