Stroke in a Young Patient

Neurologist helps patient identify underlying cause and recover from stroke

Key clinical points about stroke in younger people

-Stroke can happen at any age. More than 10 percent of strokes occur in people younger than 50, and this number is increasing.

-Stroke awareness is important because stroke must be recognized when it first presents. Often young patients ignore symptoms, assuming they are too young to have a stroke. This can delay treatment and worsen outcomes.

-Young brains have the potential for significant recovery. Some people believe, based on studies in older patients who experience stroke or brain injury, that recovery will plateau after 6 to 12 months. But the potential for recovery in young people is not well known. Dodds recommends aggressive rehabilitation from an early stage, and, as long as the patient is improving, to continue rehabilitation.

-Young patients who experience a stroke need support. Even if a patient appears to have fully recovered from stroke, it’s important to help them navigate the aftermath of their stroke. Young people with stroke often make great external recoveries, so people can overlook the challenges they may still be struggling with, such as difficulty concentrating or stress and depression.

-It’s worth seeking answers. Although it’s not possible in all cases—approximately 20 to 25 percent of patients have cryptogenic stroke—clinicians should try to identify a stroke’s underlying cause. This can help prevent strokes in the future and provide closure for patients. Not knowing the cause of stroke can cause significant anxiety, especially in young, healthy patients, who may live in a constant state of stress, wondering whether they will experience another stroke.

-Self-care is important for people of all ages. Although shingles predominantly affects an older population, it can also occur in people who are immunocompromised. Brett did not have a history of being immunocompromised in the traditional sense, but in the months leading up to his stroke, he had been working long hours, traveling, and having difficulty getting enough sleep. Dodds suspects that this lifestyle left him effectively immunocompromised, making him more susceptible to shingles.

Dodds wears sparkly red shoes to promote stroke awareness
Dodds wears sparkly red shoes to promote stroke awareness

Dodds is passionate about educating both health care providers and the larger community about stroke in younger people, emphasizing that it’s critical to be aware of the distinct challenges encountered by this population: “Not that anyone is ever ready to have a stroke, but people under 65 often don’t think that stroke is even a possibility. Having a stroke can cause a lot of anxiety. It also takes patients away from work, which can be a huge financial burden and cause further distress. My hope is that with more awareness, younger patients will recognize the symptoms and come in sooner, and we will be better able to support them during their recovery.”