Saturday, April 13, 2013

SATURDAY REWIND: Alcohol and stroke risk

With the BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal) yesterday recommending more potassium and less salt to cut stroke risk, I retrieved this article from my archive on another stroke risk factor: Alcohol consumption. (The link to all archived examiner alcohol articles is here.)

Not “old enough” for a stroke? If you’re a drinker, guess again. It might be the booze. The University of California at San Francisco has now linked stroke among younger adults to alcohol use disorders. "When a young person has a stroke, it is probably much more likely that the cause of their stroke is something other than traditional risk factors," according to one of the lead researchers in the study reported this week in the journal Stroke.
When you think of stroke, you think of older people in walkers, but researchers said long-term changes in the heart as a result of alcohol abuse or the disease of alcoholism may put younger users at higher-than-average risk earlier in life.

Stroke disables more people in the United States than breast cancer or the war in Afghanistan. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year. Strokes (either ischemic or hemorrhagic) are the most common causes of serious long-term disability. One study of 2007 data found that almost five percent of people who had a stroke that year were between ages 18 and 44.

"Substance abuse is common in young adults experiencing a stroke,” according to the research team. "Patients aged younger than 55 years who experience a stroke should be routinely screened and counseled regarding substance abuse. One in five of strokes last year involved drinking.”

The study can't prove that patients' drug or alcohol use directly contributed to their strokes. It's possible, for example, that people who abuse alcohol also see their doctors less often or engage in other risky behaviors that increase the chance of strokes. 

Researchers emphasize the importance of seeing a physician regularly and quickly recognizing the signs of a stroke - such as weakness on one side of the body and dizziness - even for young people. Some treatments can only be used during a short "window of opportunity" after the stroke, just like has been commonly accepted as a window of opportunity for getting help to someone who’s had a heart attack.

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When initially researching this story on strokes and alcohol, I pulled the following facts from the CDC and the National Stroke Association.

  • Stroke kills almost 130,000 Americans each year—that’s 1 in every 19 deaths.
  • On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes.
  • Fewer than 20 percent of hospitals are stroke certified.
  • Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes. One fourth are recurrent strokes.
  • Nearly 90 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes, when a blood clot blocks the blood vessels to the brain.
  • Stroke costs the United States an estimated $38.6 billion each year.