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Doctors now seeing more stroke patients under the age of 35

Posted: 5:32 PM, Nov 15, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-16 19:21:19Z

CLEVELAND, Ohio — One in four people in the U.S. die from a stroke every year, and usually, it’s someone older. There’s a shift happening, and now doctors are seeing more younger patients. 

The Cleveland Clinic, UH Hospitals and MetroHealth all confirm they are seeing more stroke cases in patients younger than 35, and part of the reason why is connected to the opioid epidemic. 

"Overall, look, we are seeing younger patients both in the United States and internationally,” said Dr. Andrew Russman, Head of Stroke Program at The Cleveland Clinic.

Sidney Landis, though not an addict, is one of those younger patients he’s referring to. 

“I was getting really bad headaches," she said. That’s how strokes can start.

“I went to the health center, and then they told me that I probably had the flu, or a virus or something along those lines," Landis explained.

But the Ashland University student was actually experiencing a stroke.

“I didn't know anything about strokes,” she said.

Land is just 20 years old. She was considered healthy and active, but she had other risk factors, like stress and medication, and she's not the only young person to suffer from a stroke. 

Dr. Andrew Russman says there are a few factors at play in many of the cases.

“Many of the causes that we see of stroke have evolved over time,” he said. Those causes include rises in obesity and stress, as well the growing epidemic of drug abuse, specifically drugs like cocaine, fentanyl and carfentanyl. 

“If you use an opioid such as heroin or fentanyl where you chose to inject the medication, that is going to increase your risk of stroke, because it can increase your risk of getting a blood infection, he said. “Which causes small blood clots [that could] travel to the brain,” said Dr. Russman.

The 2016 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study found drug abuse caused strokes in 15 to 40 percent of people under the age of 35.

“When we use medications that alter our consciousness, alter our awareness…we become less sensitive to some symptoms and the awareness of what's going on with our bodies,” said Dr. Russman. That’s how a patient can mistake their symptoms for something other than a stroke. 

But in Landis’ case, she wasn’t using any illegal drugs, and she caught her stroke early, so now she's on her way to making a full recovery. 

“It taught me a lot about like — you don't know, you're never guaranteed tomorrow," she said.