The news that Andrew Marr has suffered a stroke aged just 53 has come as a surprise to many of us who consider strokes an affliction only affecting older people.
But experts have been warning for some time that the number of young stroke victims is rising, suggesting our lifestyles are to blame.
BBC presenter Jonathan Dimbleby summed up what many of us are thinking, saying: "I'm very shocked that someone so energetic, fit and young should have a stroke.”
Are more young people having strokes?
Part of the increase in the number of under 55s having strokes could be related to better MRI scans and diagnosis. But doctors say this only explains some of the increase. Lifestyle factors are also to blame
We asked Dr Garry Savin, Medical Director at Preventicum, why younger people have strokes and if there’s anything we can do.
“A stroke is simply damage to the brain’s blood supply and there are two types. The most common one, that causes around 80 per cent of strokes, is when a clot breaks off and blocks an artery to the brain.
“This is the common type that affects older people,” he tells Yahoo! Lifestyle.
“The other 20 per cent are caused by a bleed in the head when the blood escapes from the vessel and causes damage to the brain – that type tends to be more common in the younger person.”
They are extremely rare, but can be fatal and are even more frightening as there can be no symptoms.
Karen Brady discovered she had a potentially stroke-causing aneurism in 2006, aged 36 and Sharon Stone experienced this type of ‘bleeding stroke’ in 2001 aged just 43.
Though there are factors that put you at higher risk such as high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes, Dr Savin admits that particularly for young people, strokes can be unpredictable.
“In the case of Andrew Marr, it’s a surprise because he runs, isn’t overweight and in general is a fit and relatively young man. It seems out of the blue.
“With these types of strokes it’s largely bad luck. It can be genetic and there are associations with smoking and certain other conditions, but people who have bleeding strokes often don’t have a high risk factor profile.”
“What we do here [at Preventicum] is look for aneurisms in the brain and risk factors for strokes. And we do find a number of aneurisms every year in people who come here for a checkup. If an aneurism is big, the chance of it rupturing can be high enough to treat it using a catheter to break it up."
“Though they can strike anyone, fitter people who exercise regularly and eat well are at a lower risk of stroke,” explains Dr Savin. Knowing your family history is also vital, as there is a hereditary link.
Signs of stroke
The NHS campaign FAST (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) is the easiest memory aid for recognising the signs of a stroke.
And if you see it happening, you need to get the person to hospital immediately.
“Get the person to hospital quickly and we can do more about it,” says Dr Savin. “Some clots can be unblocked and the sufferer’s brain can be preserved.
“Recovery depends entirely in which blood vessel the block is in and which part of the brain it supplies,” says Dr Savin. “If the clot supplies a small bit of the brain, maybe the size of a penny, damage can be minimal and a full recovery can be made.
“But if the clot is in a vessel supplying a bigger part of the brain, say the size of a fist, paralysis is likely.”
Andrew Marr is said to be responding well to treatment and the next six weeks will be vital to his overall recovery. Treatment and rehabilitation training are intense because the sooner the brain can be rewired, the better chance he will have of making a full recovery.
“Lot of people do recover completely,” Dr Savin explains.”During the first six weeks, rehabilitation needs to get the brain to reengage and develop new pathways, and help the patient to learn how to use the side that’s affected.
We are wishing Andrew luck and a swift recovery.