by Linda Thrasybule, NJSpotlight.com
Kathy Doyle was sitting in her car with her newborn baby Molly in the back seat, waiting for her husband, Steve, to run into Dunkin Donuts to grab them coffee. She had just left her doctor’s office, going in for a routine checkup two weeks after delivering her third child.
As soon as her husband left the car, Doyle suddenly felt “like someone shot me in the back of the head.”
The pain was so intense, she felt like her whole left side had “melted away.”
At 36 years old, Doyle was experiencing a stroke.
“I couldn’t really talk,” she said. “My husband is a police officer so he was very calm. He took me to the hospital right away.”
More and more young people are experiencing stroke, particularly ischemic stroke, which occurs when an artery to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, reducing blood flow, which can ultimately damage brain cells.
Ischemic strokes represent about 87 percent of all strokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
People between the ages of 15 and 44 hospitalized for ischemic stroke increased by 37 percentfrom 1995 to 2008, reports the CDC.
In fact, nearly 25 percent of all strokes occur in people younger than age 65.
Stroke has specific symptoms such as numbness or weakness on one side of the body, confusion, difficulty speaking, problems seeing in one or both eyes, loss of balance, dizziness, or a sudden severe headache.
The Obesity Factor
Some experts attribute this rise to the burgeoning obesity epidemic. Obesity, along with heart disease, diabetes, poor diet, lack of exercise and high cholesterol are among the risk factors linked with stroke.
“I think that there’s definitely a link that we’re starting to see,” said Dr. Erol Veznedaroglu, also known as Dr. Vez, director of the Capital Institute for Neurosciences and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Capital Health, a state-designated comprehensive stroke center in Trenton.
“Traditionally, people think about stroke as something grandma and grandpa have, but we’re starting to see people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s very consistently now, which is really a new phenomenon.”
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., reports the American Stroke Association. More than 140,000 people in the U.S. die each year from it.
Vez said that the response to a stroke must be immediate. “When we say immediate, we mean 911,” he said. “It’s a time-sensitive disease, more so than even someone experiencing trauma.”
Capital Health, a state-designated comprehensive stroke center, offers one of only a handful of neurosurgical intensive care units in New Jersey. The center also houses a specialized team trained in complex brain disorders and the most advanced procedures for people with strokes, aneurysms, and brain tumors, among other conditions.
Last year, it became the first hospital in the country to offer a Center for Neurologic Emergency Medicine, a program for patients who need emergency care involving the brain, spine, or central nervous system.