Increase in strokes among younger people

By Jay CrandallCONNECT    (Source: KPHO/KTVK)



MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

At age 51, Phoenix Fire Capt. Tom Saggio never expected to be undergoing a neurological exam after suffering a stroke.

“Nobody this young in my family has had a stroke,” he said.

But stroke specialist Dr. Victor Zach with Honor Health says Saggio's case is not unique.

“Forties and 50s, we certainly see plenty of those," Zach said. "Like I said, even children are having strokes these days, which is crazy.”

In fact, a new study out of the United Kingdom shows a nearly 50 percent increase in men aged 40-54 being hospitalized for stroke over the last decade, something Zach has seen mirrored here as well.

Doctors still don't know what caused Saggio's stroke, but Zach says there are some clear risk factors.

High blood pressure is No. 1, and others include smoking, diabetes and obesity.

And recognizing those risks is the key to prevention.

“So, if you learn you have high blood pressure, your goal needs to become how to lower my blood pressure," Zach said. “A lot of people say, 'Well, it runs in my family.' There is nothing they can do. It is genetic. That is not true."

It is also important to recognize the signs of stroke. Obvious indicators are a droopy face, weakness in the arm or leg on one side, or slurred speech.

But Zach says there are more subtle signs, as Saggio found out.

“I was having difficulty getting some words across,” he remembered from the day he had the stroke. “And if I was walking with my coffee, I was spilling it. And, you know, that is not typical.”

Zach says the key is to look for a sudden change in the ability to do something.

“So, if a person is going about their business and acting normal, they are going about their job, or driving their car, or eating dinner in a normal fashion and suddenly they can't, they can't drive the car, they can't do their job, they can't eat their dinner, they can't for whatever reason, something physical is happening to them, and they can't do that suddenly, that is the story we kind of listen for," he said.

Equally important is getting to a doctor immediately. Do no assume it will pass, Zach warns.

"The thing about stroke is that it's basically just a lack of oxygen going to a part of your body, so if you fell in a pool and you couldn't get out of the pool and you were at the bottom of the pool, you wouldn't want to wait until tomorrow to get out of the pool," he said.

Saggio believes seeing a doctor quickly lessened damage from his stroke.

“It is potentially possible that without intervention, the stroke could have gotten progressively worse," he said.

And he is now on the road to recovery.

Zach suggests everyone take advantage of a free stroke screening offered by a number of Valley hospitals throughout the year. He says the more you and your family know about prevention and signs, the better off you will be.