#HEALTH: Young and at risk of stroke

POOR diet, stress and sedentary lifestyle. It's unsurprising that young people are facing diseases that used to be linked to the elderly.

One in four Malaysians will suffer a stroke by 2040 if no preventive action is taken, according to the Global Burden of Disease Stroke Statistics Worldwide Survey in 2016.

Alarmingly, stroke patients are getting younger and one in four cases now occur in people under 50.

The increasing incident rate among younger individuals is a concerning trend, says Sri Kota Specialist Medical Centre consultant neurologist and physician Dr Wong Sing Keat.

Stroke is usually linked to older people but that's not the case anymore. In Malaysia, the most common risk factors among young people include a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity.

Many young people are also obese, and hypertension is on the rise. The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 (NHMS2019) indicated that one in two Malaysian adults is overweight or obese, and three in 10 have hypertension.

"Diets high in salt, saturated fats, and processed foods contribute to hypertension and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), increasing the risk of stroke," says Dr Wong.

Smoking among young people also needs to be examined, he adds.

According to the World Stroke Organisation, an individual who smokes 20 cigarettes a day is six times more likely to have a stroke compared with a non-smoker.

Excessive alcohol consumption is also linked to over one million stroke cases each year globally. NHMS2019 indicates that 11.8 per cent of Malaysians consume alcohol, and one in two is involved in binge drinking.

Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to stroke or its risk factors. Dr Wong says research suggests that having a first-degree relative who had a stroke may increase one's own risk by up to 30 per cent.

At the same time, a family history of stroke does not mean that an individual will experience it. However, knowing one's family history can be valuable in terms of early detection and prevention.

"I would advise people with a family history of stroke to be more vigilant in adopting a healthier lifestyle, managing risk factors, and seeking regular check-ups."


The potential for recovery and rehabilitation after a stroke varies among individuals and is influenced by several factors, including the severity of the stroke, the area of the brain affected, the timeliness of medical intervention, and the individual's overall health and commitment to rehabilitation.

"Stroke recovery is a complex and ongoing process, but advances in stroke rehabilitation and therapy hold promise for improving patient outcomes, including advancements in clot-busting medications, mechanical thrombectomy, neuroprotective treatments, and innovative imaging techniques that aid in early diagnosis and treatment."

If a patient develops a stroke due to blockage of large blood vessels, doctors can perform a mechanical thrombectomy (blood clot removal), which increases the chance of a good outcome by more than 50 per cent.

Dr Wong says for every 100 patients treated, 38 will have a less-severe disability outcome, and 20 more will achieve functional independence.

The best chance of recovery occurs within the first three months after a stroke. Regular physiotherapy and rehabilitation are crucial in this stage.


Make informed dietary choices

Switching to a diet that is mostly plant-based with small amounts of meat and fish, such as the "Mediterranean Diet" can help maintain good health. There is a large body of evidence to support its benefits for cardiovascular health and stroke prevention.

Active lifestyle

Exercise at least three times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes each session. Research indicates that just 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week, can reduce the risk of stroke by 25 per cent.

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