By Elizabeth Namazzi
Grace was a normal 19-year-old girl with big dreams of becoming a doctor. A year before she joined university, she suffered a stroke that left her with a twisted mouth. The stroke rendered her helpless for years.
It was a devastating experience for Grace and her family who had always thought that stroke strikes old men and women.
Stroke affecting teenagers
According to Dr. Edward Ddumba, a senior consultant neurologist with Nsambya Hospital, stroke has become more common in young adults in recent years.
“Most strokes occur in older people aged over 65 years but of late we noticed a trend of strokes occurring in young adults aged between 20 and 55 years. In the US, the increase varies between 6 to 30% according to different case studies done between 1993 and 2005,” Ddumba says.
Although studies have been done in people aged 20 to 55, Ddumba says even teenagers can be affected by stroke.
“The youngest person I have treated was 14 years old. It was a very serious case because he lost use of his right upper and lower limbs as well as his speech,” he says.
Why the new trend
According to Ddumba, there is a rise in stroke cases in young adults because of several reasons:
-The population of young people has increased in relation to older people.
-There is more alcohol drug abuse and smoking.
-Risky sexual behaviour is common and so is HIV/AIDS
-There is more food available to the population which leads to obesity/diabetes which predisposes to stroke.
-There is less exercise because of motorised transport and young adults are glued to their computers and television sets. They prefer to watch sports rather than participate.
- The invention of CT and MRI scanners have made diagnosis much easier than it was in the past. This means that it is generally easier to detect stroke than was the case in a few years back.
What is stroke?
“Stroke by definition results from interruption of blood supply to the brain. This can cause brain damage or death depending on the severity and duration of the interruption of the blood supply.
The blood supply to the brain conveys glucose, oxygen and other nutrients which are essential for normal brain activity,” Ddumba explains.
Lifestyle of young adults
Most causes of stroke have everything to do with one’s lifestyle. Unfortunately, young people usually ignore advice about their lifestyle because they think they are too young to suffer from lifestyle diseases.
Stroke is one of those lifestyle diseases that were previously branded as old people’s diseases. But as Ddumba explains, a teenager who makes poor lifestyle choices is not safe from stroke just because he/she is a teenager.
“The factors that cause stroke in adults also operate in young people, except that they become manifest at an earlier age, usually as a result of lifestyle of the individual.
For example if a young adult consumes alcohol in excess, smokes, takes recreational substances like ecstasy, cocaine, cannabis and amphetamines and eats junk food, then he or she increases the risk of stroke, regardless of his or her young age,” Ddumba says.
Other causes of stroke
-Sickle cell disease
-Infections like syphilis and HIV/AIDS
-High fat diet
-Lack of exercise
-Genetic factors like a positive family history of stroke
-High blood pressure in the young adult
-Arterio-venous malformations in the brain
-Use of family planning pills
-Hormonal replacement therapy.
-Sudden weakness of face, arm or leg on one side of the body
-Numbness on one side of the body
-Heaviness of the tongue
-Difficulty with speech
-Poor vision in one or both eyes
-Severe headache of unknown cause
-Sudden collapse or loss of consciousness
How to avoid stroke
To avoid stroke, Dr. Ddumba recommends:
-Regular exercise for at least 30 minutesdaily
-A healthy diet with the right amounts of carbohydrates, proteins,fats, vitamins
- Limit sugar and salt intake
-Keep optimum body weight
-Alcohol in moderation, if at all
-Avoid substance/drug abuse
- Have a medical checkup at least once a year
If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. with this simple test:
F—FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A—ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S—SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T—TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call an ambulance or rush to hospital immediately.
Stroke and diet
Dr. Edward Ddumba
Dr. Dumba explains that the food you consume must be proportional to your level of physical activity in order to burn off excess calories.
“A healthy diet contains adequate fruits and vegetables in addition to meeting the calorie requirements. Too much food leads to excessive calories which are stored as fat.
This leads to overweight or even obesity. Many people are overweight as a result of eating foods rich in fats and sugar yet they do much less physical activity.
Being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle predisposes us to develop diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidaemia and hypertension, which are risk factors for stroke.
Excessive fat around the waist and lower abdomen increases the risk for stroke, especially in those who are overweight.
Components of an unhealthy diet
-Too much food (excessive calories to the level of physical activity)
-Too much fat, sugar or salt
-Not enough fruits and vegetables.
Stroke and sexual health
For a young adult who is yet to start a family, a stroke can end all those dreams. Ddumba explains: “The effects of stroke depend on which part of the brain is injured and how severe it is.
The stroke may affect a limited part of the body such as the face, arm or leg. It may paralyse the whole side of the body or cause sudden death.”
For some stroke survivors, the effects can be so severe that their sexual health is totally affected.
“Some of the stroke victims are so disabled that they cannot engage in meaningful sexual activity and therefore marriage may be difficult in such circumstances,” Dumba says.
“In mild cases, sex and marriage are possible because one can function normally after recovery, especially if one has a supportive partner, ” he adds.
Ddumba says it is possible to have children after a stroke.
“ if not naturally, you can resort to assisted in vitro fertilization,” he says.
However, he advises patients seek the assistance of a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, psychologist and gynaecologist if there are sexual and reproductive issues to overcome.