- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - It’s something we fear will happen to grandma or grandpa, but for the average American under the age of 45, it’s not something that crosses the mind.

There was a 44 percent spike in the number of young Americans (under 45 years old) hospitalized due to stroke over the past decade, according to the National Stroke Association. At the same time, 73 percent of younger Americans are not familiar with stroke symptoms and the need for urgent medical attention.

Robyn Moore, CEO of the National Stroke Association, said it is a myth that stroke only happen to the elderly.

“Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in adults, and it can happen to anyone,” Moore said in a release. “A stroke is a ‘brain attack’ that occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or broken blood vessel and can be caused by a number of factors.”

It’s a trend that is also being seen locally.

Nurse Mitzi Beckett, stroke program coordinator at Cabell Huntington Hospital, said in the five years she has been in her position, she has seen more and more younger adults in her program.

“When I started, my population was the older population,” Beckett said. “In the past couple of years, I’ve seen a steady incline of 30- and 40-year-olds, even some in their 20s.”

One of the reasons is lifestyle.

“We’ve become a sedentary country,” Beckett said. “We don’t take care of ourselves. It’s more expensive to eat healthy than it is to eat junk food.”

Dr. Carl McComas with St. Mary’s Medical Center neurology said where the Tri-State differs from the national trend is the effects of drug use.

“Quite a number of younger folks are having stroke due to drug use,” McComas said. “Drug abuse causes heart disease and stroke, particularly the injectable drugs.”

Drug abuse is one of the leading causes of endocarditis, which inflames the lining of the heart. Pieces of the lining can break off, flowing to the brain and causing a stroke.

“Those are often devastating and often life-threatening,” McComas said.

Stopping drug abuse is a whole other story, but there are things being done to change the alarming trends.

Through the FASTman program through Cabell Huntington, Beckett teaches children about stroke, how to prevent it and the warning signs. The idea for the program arose from two 8-year-old boys noticing something was wrong with their grandma and calling 911. She had a stroke, and her grandsons likely saved her life, Beckett said.

Beckett teaches the program in schools and does classes at Huntington’s Kitchen. Just this year she has taught the program to 1,500 children.

Other than saving the life of a grandparent, teacher or parent, Beckett also hopes the children learn healthy habits.

“This is my passion,” Beckett said. “I love working with adults, but being able to impact a child and potentially save a parent’s life. … It can change the trends.”

Adults can change the trends as well by making some changes in their lifestyle.

Beckett said she tells people to get any exercise they can, even if they can just walk half a block.

“Walk half a block until that half is easy, then go one more,” she said. “Build on it.”

McComas suggested limiting salt intake, which means cutting down on processed and fast foods.

“If you read the sodium content at those places as well as certain prepared food, the salt content is astronomical, and that raises blood pressure,” he said.

Beckett tells the children she teaches to eat a rainbow.

One way to properly identify a potential stroke is via the FAST method.

FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

___

Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, https://www.herald-dispatch.com

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