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High blood pressure contributes to an increased rate of stroke in younger adults, study says

X-ray of a man's head.
An X-ray of a man's head shows brain damage from a cerebral stroke, which is shown in red.

A new studyrecently presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference found fewer people over 75 are having strokes.

But the rate of stroke in people 49 and younger has increased over the last 30 years — and high blood pressure is believed to be the cause.

KERA’s Sam Baker talked about this with Dr. Rashedul Hasan, medical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Program at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano.


What’s behind the increase?

Generally speaking, there are two types of strokes: ischemic stroke, when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic stroke, when a blood vessel in the brain burst.

But interestingly, the number one cause of either type of stroke is high blood pressure, irrespective of at what age you are diagnosed with it.

The other risk factors are high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, drug abuse, and atrial fibrillation.

So the more risk factors you have, the higher the risk of getting a stroke, no matter whether you are young or adult. It is all about risk factors rather than age.

About high blood pressure

There are many causes of hypertension that might be patient-specific, but there are a few common causes that are prevalent across the young age group like obesity, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activities, stress, smoking, and drug abuse, mainly cocaine and amphetamine. Unfortunately, many of our young generation has been experiencing at least one of these risk factors, which led to developing hypertension and subsequent stroke. So it is a domino effect.

You're talking about lifestyle factors

That's correct. We all understand exercise plays a very vital role to lower our blood pressure. Unfortunately, nowadays, our lifestyle has changed. We’ve become desk workers rather than going outside, doing physical activities. We are spending more time on the devices, so that all plays a role in keeping our blood pressure too high and that eventually leads to stroke.

Are older people more aware of high blood pressure than younger people? 

That's correct. Because we have kind of a mindset that, if I'm not old enough, I don't have high blood pressure, I should not have high cholesterol and diabetes, and I'm a little bit careless about those primary risk factors.

Older folks are more aware of that. They go to their physicians yearly to check their blood pressure. They take medicine because, in their mind, that is the age for getting [high] blood pressure. So I am at that age so I can get [high] blood pressure, so it is more acceptable.

So we should make younger adults more aware of high blood pressure and the importance of it?

Yes. The causes of high blood pressure are obesity, lack of physical activity, smoking and drug abuse, and an unhealthy diet. If someone already has one of these risk factors, they should be more aware of their blood pressure.

Otherwise, they could face stroke or worse? 

Not only stroke, but it's also for any cardiovascular diseases like a heart attack. Stroke can happen at any age. So, know your risk factors and do due diligence to take good control of those risk factors. Eat healthy, live healthy, and do regular exercise.


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let’s talk about: High Blood Pressure and Stroke

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.