A recent Finnish study also suggests that the 40s is the age when we have to take care of our cardiovascular health because the rates of ischemic stroke increase dramatically beyond our 44th year of life. And most especially if you are male. The Finnish study looked at 1,008 ischemic stroke patients aged 15 to 49 years old. Here are some of the figures the researchers found:
- a high frequency of stroke risk factors in young patients;
- a high percentage of “silent” and multiple strokes;
- the pattern of stroke-causing events begins changing in midlife to resemble that of the elderly.
The researchers looked at stroke incidence in different age groups and found that stroke under the age of 30 occurs more often in women. The incidence of stroke increases with age and by the age of 44, the incidence is almost equal between men and women. After this point, a sharp increase in first stroke incidence in males was observed.
Most of the risk factors observed were lifestyle related and modifiable, and the most frequent are:
- dyslipidemia (60%)
- smoking (44%)
- hypertension (39%)
In addition, less frequent risk factors but nevertheless potentially dangerous were observed such as heavy alcohol consumption, which is common among men, migraine among women, use of illicit drugs among younger patients.
What surprised the researchers are the high number of silent as well as multiple ischemic strokes occurring, sometimes with the patient being aware of them.
Other key findings are:
- The average annual stroke rate for all patients was 13.3 per 100,000 people for males and 7.8 per 100,000 for females. Among patients ages 15-44, the annual rate was 7.5 for males and 5.7 for females.
- Traditional stroke risk factors – high cholesterol, smoking, hypertension and obesity – were more common among males and those older than 44. Heavy drinking was more often found in males, and migraine headaches were more common in females as a risk factor. Illicit drug use and migraines were more frequent among younger patients.
- The leading causes of strokes were caused by a cardiac source (19.6 percent) and artery dissections (15.4 percent). Artery dissections are small tears in an artery’s inner lining that allow blood to seep underneath, push out the vessel wall, and narrow or block the artery.
- Multiple strokes had occurred in 23 percent of the patients, and silent strokes occurred in 13 percent of the patients.
As I approach that stage called midlife, I am very aware of the health problems that come with it and stroke is just one of them. The American Stroke Association gives a comprehensive patient-friendly overview of stroke and how we can prevent it.