Strokes, and strokes at earlier ages, have been linked to alcohol misuse in a study by the University of California at San Francisco. “When a young person has a stroke, it is probably much more likely that the cause of their stroke is something other than traditional risk factors,” according to one of the lead researchers in the study reported n the journal Stroke.
The UCSF researchers say long-term changes in the heart as a result of alcohol abuse or the disease of alcoholism may put younger users at higher-than-average risk earlier in life.
Stroke disables more people in the United States than breast cancer or the war in Afghanistan. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year. Strokes (either ischemic or hemorrhagic) are the most common causes of serious long-term disability. Ninety percent of strokes are ischemic, where a clot blocks blood flow to the brain.
One study of 2007 data found that almost five percent of people who had a stroke that year were between ages 18 and 44.
“Substance abuse is common in young adults experiencing a stroke,” according to the research team. “Patients aged younger than 55 years who experience a stroke should be routinely screened and counseled regarding substance abuse. One in five of strokes last year involved drinking.”
The study does not offer evidence that patients’ drug or alcohol use directly contributed to their strokes. It’s possible, for example, that people who abuse alcohol or have the disease of alcoholism also see their doctors less often or engage in other risky behaviors that increase the chance of stroke.
Researchers emphasize the importance of seeing a physician regularly and quickly recognizing the signs of a stroke – such as weakness on one side of the body and dizziness – even for young people. Some treatments can only be used during a short “window of opportunity” after the stroke, just like has been commonly accepted as a window of opportunity for getting help to someone who’s had a heart attack.
According to the National Stroke Association:
Stroke kills almost 130,000 Americans each year—that’s 1 in every 19 deaths.
On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes.
Fewer than 20 percent of hospitals are stroke certified.
One fourth of strokes are recurrent strokes.
Stroke costs the United States an estimated $38.6 billion each year.
Stroke Awareness Month has been observed each May since 1989.