Strokes are affecting more young people: Do you know how to react to symptoms?

What would you be likely to do within the first three hours of experiencing weakness, numbness, difficulty speaking or difficulty seeing?

Researchers from Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center asked this question of more than a thousand people nationwide — and were astonished that almost three quarters of respondents under the age of 45 gave an answer that could endanger their health.

Gene Latorre, MD, is medical director of Upstate's stroke program.

Gene Latorre, MD, is medical director of Upstate’s stroke service.

Sudden weakness, numbness, difficulty speaking or seeing are symptoms of stroke. Your brain is sending signals that its blood flow is impeded — either from a burst or blocked blood vessel — and you must act quickly in order to minimize or reverse damage. That means an urgent trip to the hospital, preferably one with a comprehensive stroke center, such as Upstate University Hospital.

On duty around the clock at Upstate is a medical team of experts in stroke care including neurologists, neurosurgeons, neurointerventional radiologists, neurocritical care specialists, board-certified emergency physicians and specialized neuroscience nurses. But the team’s abilities are useless if patients don’t recognize stroke symptoms and promptly get to the hospital. The first three hours of a stroke are critical. Waiting to see whether symptoms improve, as many survey respondents said they would do, is wrong.

Neurologist Gene Latorre, MD, medical director of the stroke service at Upstate, emphasizes every minute counts. “The sooner we identify and treat acute stroke, the better the outcome.”

Results of the UCLA survey are especially troubling because they reveal so many young adults are unaware of the signs and symptoms of stroke at a time when the number of strokes in people under the age of 45 have increased by as much as 53 percent since the mid-90s.

Latorre says Upstate has seen an increase in patients diagnosed with stroke who are younger than 45. The increase is likely caused in part by a rise in the number of young adults with diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure and/or obesity, conditions that increase a person’s risk for stroke. Smoking rates also remain high among people from age 18 to 45, and smoking significantly increases a person’s risk of stroke.

“If you experience sudden dysfunction in your face, arm or speech, it’s time to call 911,” says Latorre. “The sooner you get to the nearest comprehensive stroke center, the better your chance of having a good recovery.”

Layout 1 finalThis article appears in the spring 2016 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

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