This year 800 thousand people will suffer a stroke. Typically we think of stroke as something that happens to people over 60. But as Meredith Whited learned, stroke can happen at any age. "I was talking with one of my friends and whenever she was speaking I could hear what she was saying but I had no idea WHAT she was saying. I couldn't understand what she was talking about. "I kept asking her 'What? What?' She was like – 'Are you kidding with me? I was like No!'"
They happened to be near an EMT who said Meredith needed to go straight to a hospital. It didn't long for healthcare workers to figure out the 19-year-old suffered a stroke. "I definitely didn't think of myself as ever having a stroke at 19. Honestly no offense to anyone else I just honestly only assumed that older people had strokes," Meredith told me.
For about a month prior, she'd been suffering headaches. But that wasn't uncommon for the teen, she'd been a migraine sufferer most of her life. It was the speech problems that were the big red flag.
Dr. Christian Sonnefeld is one of Meredith's neurologists at CMC NorthEast in Concord. He describes a stroke much alike a heart attack but in the brain. It's a restriction of blood flow and with a lack of blood; damage to the brain can be immediate.
There are some obvious things that put people at greater risk of stroke. "Cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure are all these things that need to be controlled," he says, to lower risk of stroke. "I think a lot of people associate stroke with old people but as we can see here it happens with just about any age. It is certainly more common in adults and women who are on birth control and smoke. We know there is a hormonal relationship with stroke which is certainly a risk factor," according to Dr. Sonnefeld.
As for Meredith and damage from her stroke, she says she's seeing improvement in her speech every day. She still has trouble with certain aspects of school. But says her teachers are really working with her. "I have to read out loud, because if I read it in my head I can't quite grasp what I've read," she told me.
Dr. Sonnefeld says there is a very simple test anyone can do if you suspect someone you love is suffering or has recently suffered a stroke. "A quick exam anyone can do at home – check to see if there are any signs of weakness or numbness on one side of the body or speech problems. Time is of the essence to come immediately to the hospital," he said.
Carolinas Healthcare has dedicated a page of their web site called "Brain Power". It includes lots of important information on strokes and how to lower your risk and identify someone who is at risk.
Also think of the word FAST. The American Stroke Association uses FAST as a reminder:
F- Look for Facial paralysis
A-Weakness in either Arm
S-Speech is slurred or difficult
T-Time is of the essence get to a hospital