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Surviving Stroke at 23: Read Nile's Story
Date: 7/25/2014

When you think “stroke survivor,” undoubtedly Ewing resident Nile is one of the last people you would consider a likely candidate.

At 23, Nile is an energetic college student who loves the beach and working out. Not your average stroke patient. So when Nile began to feel weakness and collapsed in her bedroom before church, she didn’t even consider stroke.

Unlikely Diagnosis

“At first, my mom thought maybe I needed to eat something,” says Nile.

When the weakness subsided, Nile figured mom was right and went on to attend church as she normally would. Sitting in the pew, Nile began to experience numbness on her left side. She left church to call her doctor.

Nile had a history of erratic blood pressure, so the doctor told her to take her blood pressure, and called in a prescription for her. Nile took her blood pressure, took her medication and got ready to head north to school that evening.

“When my parents were driving me back up to school, I was in the back seat playing Angry Birds on my phone. My mom noticed the game was idle and turned around to see what I was doing and she saw I was in tears because I couldn’t speak,” recalls Nile. “My parents took me right to the closest hospital.”

There, Nile’s symptoms were still not recognized as stroke. Her bloodwork showed a dip in her potassium levels. Believing the symptoms were related to muscle cramping in her face, the emergency physician sent Nile home with a prescription and asked her to continue monitoring her blood pressure.

The next morning, Nile awoke unable to walk. “Something was very wrong. My doctor was out of town and so, her associate sent me to RWJ Hamilton,” says Nile.

RWJ Hamilton’s emergency department ran similar tests to the previous hospital, with similar findings. Additionally, however, the emergency physician ran a CT scan and MRI. This further testing indicated Nile had experienced a mild stroke.

A Changing Profile for Stroke

We have been aware for years that high blood pressure and arterial disease contribute to increased risk for stroke. Typically, these conditions occur over time, so stroke is most common in individuals over the age of 55.

Recent studies suggest, however, that victims of stroke are getting younger.

“Stroke in young people is still rare. I can say, though, I’ve seen more of these patients in recent years,” explains Lei Zhang, MD, board certified neurologist.

There are multiple reasons for the possible increase in reported stroke, but among the most common are: increased awareness and overall health of the younger patient.

“Stroke awareness has been a hot topic. As people become more aware of the signs of stroke and the importance of early intervention, they are more inclined to come to the hospital for treatment,” says Dr. Zhang.

The American Heart Association has developed an easy way to remember the warning signs of stroke: FAST.

·         Face drooping.

·         Arm weakness.

·         Speech  difficulty.

·         Time to call 9-1-1.

“Stroke results from an occluded blood vessel causing disrupted blood supply to the brain tissue. Depending on the area of the brain affected by the stroke, one can have different symptom manifestations,” explains Dr. Zhang.

When it comes to general health, the younger population has experienced an uptick in cases of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – all risk factors for stroke. Women, in particular, are at high risk for stroke as it occurs in about 55,000 more women each year than men. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, one of every five women has a stroke at some point in her life.

“No matter what your age, recognizing your risk of stroke is very important because if a stroke occurs, time is everything,” explains Dr. Zhang.

As for Nile, she has returned to school with no residual effect from her stroke. She has since changed some of her eating habits and making an effort to exercise more regularly. For Nile, it all comes down to mindfulness in the every day.

“You just need to be mindful of your health. Drink more water. Watch sodium intake. Watch your cholesterol. Be aware of the side effects of your medications and look for signs. Make better food choices. Just pay attention to the way you’re living your life can help you avoid a problem like this,” she says.


Listen Up, Ladies

The American Heart Association recently issued its first-ever stroke prevention guidelines just for women. The guidelines highlighted these risk factors:

·         Medication – In particular, birth control pills, when combined with high blood pressure, can raise stroke risk.

·         Pregnancy – While uncommon, stroke risk increases with pregnancy – especially during the last three months and shortly after delivery.

·         Migraines – Women – particularly smokers – who experience migraines accompanied by symptoms that present just prior to onset (aura), such as light sensitivity and ringing in the ears, are at increased risk for stroke.

·         Irregular heartbeat – Atrial fibrillation quadruples stroke risk and is more common in women than men after age 75.

·         Hormone replacement therapy – Has been found to increase stroke risk, rather than decrease it, as previously thought.