Stroke may be affecting people at a younger age, according to a recent study published in the journal Neurology. This is not the first study to suggest this unsettling trend and other research has found similar results.
The first question to ask is whether stroke in young people only appears to be more common because of improved diagnosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been more widely used for stroke diagnosis, and MRIs are much more sensitive than computed tomography (CT) scans to detect small strokes. So some of the increase in diagnosis of stroke in young people may be due to improved technology and not a true increase in incidence.
Still, stroke is often diagnosed by the judgment of a physician, not necessarily by the type of scan. So increased use of MRI may not fully explain the trend.
The most widely accepted explanation, although unproven, is the rise in obesity in children. One of the main complications of obesity is diabetes. Obesity itself is a risk factor for stroke, and diabetes is an extremely strong stroke risk factor. The rise in obesity and diabetes among children may set the stage for stroke in young adulthood.
This possibility is quite alarming, and should serve as a wake-up call to healthcare practitioners. We need to address children obesity sooner rather than later. By the time a stroke occurs, the blood vessels are already damaged. This does not mean that treatment later in life is useless, cardiovascular conditions like heart attacks. Nonetheless, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and earlier intervention can have a more profound impact on subsequent stroke risk than later intervention will–particularly after a stroke has occurred.
What is the answer? Every parent, pediatrician and primary care physician needs to take responsibility. Our children’s future health is at stake, and we have a stake in improving their health.