Stroke victims getting younger

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on February 15, 2011 at 5:55 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 15 at 7:05 PM

Millions have seen the video of Los Angeles reporter Serene Branson and her garbled post-Grammy liveshot which has led many to question if she had a stroke.

She was not hospitalized, but she is reportedly followed up with a doctor for more medical tests.

Some have said the incident served as a reality check that strokes are on the rise in the younger population.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, stroke has risen 17 percent in women under 35.

Maggie Stednitz, 34, counts herself among the victims. Stednitz had a stroke Jan. 16.

She had gone to the hospital twice before her stroke with an unexplained headache.

"They told me it was a migraine, that it would go away. It didn't go away," Stednitz said. "They did cat scans, they did MRI's, they did all sorts of tests and they sent me back home. And then, two days later, I had the stroke."

Unexplained headache, sudden weakness, trouble talking or understanding, and dizziness or loss of coordination can be the first signs of an impending stroke, even when tests do not detect damage.

"The chances are 10 percent within the first week, which is pretty high," says Texas Health Dr. Lavanya Nagineni. As a neurologist at Texas Health Southwest, she's witnessed a rise in stroke in younger people.

At Texas Health Harris Fort Worth, 105 stroke patients under the age of 45 were seen. Many attribute lifestyle for the rise in stroke in younger people.

"Sedentary lifestyle definitely increases the risk of stroke," says Dr. Nagineni. "Also, heavy use of alcohol also puts you at risk of intracranial bleeds and strokes. A high, fatty diet and obesity, which may lead to hypertension and therefore diabetes can basically put you at high risk of having strokes."

In Stednitz's case, doctors blame birth control pills, which can double the risk.

"That's the only thing they've found," Stednitz said. "Because I don't have any other risk factors for it."

A month after her stroke, Stednitz is recovering well, though she still can not feel heat or pain on her right side.

"You don't think it could happen to you," she says, "But it can and it does."

Email: jstjames@wfaa.com

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