Strokes Among Youth

By Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

Photo by Dreamstime

Here in the United States Heart Disease is the number one killer. Usually we think of this as a problem that happens among older adults. And this is true to a certain extent. Generally, the risk continually increases after the age of 45. Women are naturally protected by hormones until they face menopause; then the risk increases.

New research is showing that heart disease is gradually creeping down the age line and affecting teenagers and young adults. Researchers reviewed data taken from hospitals during 1995 – 2008. While the number of strokes for the older population has decreased, the number of acute ischemic strokes (brain blood supply decreases or stops) rose among youth except for girls aged 5 - 14 years old. The largest number of these strokes took place with males, aged 5 – 14 years; a 51.6 percent increase. Males aged 15 to 34 years experienced a 45.6 percent increase.1 Those who experienced stroke had an additional risk factor. Almost one third of the 15-34 years old had high blood pressure.2

With these types of changes in health, young adults, teens and parents of children should re-examine their lifestyles and make changes to support good health. What can be done to protect the heart and blood vessels?

• Add fruits and vegetables to the diet. These foods offer natural ingredients that protect the heart and blood vessels and helps maintain healthy lifestyles.

• Increase fiber intake. Fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grain foods such as brown rice, whole wheat bread and oatmeal provide a generous supply of fiber. It is recommended that teens and adults should get 25 – 36 grams of fiber a day. The Institute of Medicine recommends that for every 1,000 calories consumed, both children and adults should get 14 grams.

• Regular physical activity is recommended. Adults should get a minimum of 30 minutes a day and children should get a minimum of 60 minutes a day. Walking, swimming and biking are great activities to get moving.

• Choose fats and oils that are low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are also helpful in maintaining good health. Foods such as flax seed and salmon help us maintain a steady supply.

• Eat less refined products and avoid smoking and tobacco smoke.

Make it a goal to keep everyone in the family heart healthy!

1 George MG, Tong X, Kuklina EV, et al. Trends in stroke hospitalizations and associated risk factors among children and young adults, 1995–2008.
2 Anderson P. Stroke Increasing in the Young, CDC Reports. Accessed 12/25/2012. Annals of Neurology, 70(5);Nov 2011:713-721.
3 The Nutrition Source: Daily Fiber Requirements. Harvard School of Public Health. Accessed 12/25/12.