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Strokes Can Strike Young People: Risks You May Not Know

Head massage

When you think about the risk factors for stroke, old age, high blood pressure, heart disease smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol likely come to mind. And with good reason. These risk factors significantly increase your risk of suffering a stroke.

But what about having your hair washed in a salon sink? Serving a tennis ball? Trying a new yoga pose? Getting an adjustment at your chiropractor? Or sneezing or coughing violently?

Uncommon Causes of Stroke

Although rare, hyperextension of the neck, which can occur while engaging in a variety of activities including those mentioned above, as well as a traumatic injury, can trigger a stroke by injuring the major arteries of the neck--even in young people.

That’s why whatever your age, it’s important to be aware of the signs of stroke:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg; especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion; trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, loss of balance/coordination or severe dizziness.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Beauty Parlor Stroke Syndrome

You may recall headlines about a California woman who claimed her stroke was the result of a shampoo at her local salon. Although it sounds far-fetched, when the neck is hyperextended for a period of time, blood vessels of the neck, especially the vertebral arteries, can become weakened and tear. These tears are called “arterial dissections” and can lead to formation of a blood clot that can travel to the brain, causing a stroke.

Research presented at the 2014 American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference shows that suffering an injury to the head or neck increases ischemic stroke (caused by a blood clot blocking a vessel in the brain) risk 3-fold among trauma patients younger than 50. Arterial dissections are probably the single most common cause of ischemic stroke in people under 50 years of age.

Time Is Brain

While not a cause for panic, these uncommon scenarios reinforce both the importance of knowing the signs of stroke and acting quickly if you or someone you observe exhibits these signs.

The National Stroke Association’s “Act FAST” acronym is an easy way to remember the actions you need to take:

Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?

Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms and hold them horizontally. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange? Can they understand you?

Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

The more quickly a person receives advanced medical treatment, the less likely they are to suffer brain damage and disability.

A Team Effort

We often talk about the “golden hour,” or small window of opportunity for effectively treating stroke once a patient arrives at the emergency department.

At Lancaster General Hospital, a Joint Commission-Certified Primary Stroke Center, identifying and treating a stroke is a team effort. And often, that effort begins before the patient even arrives at the hospital.

Emergency responders are trained to identify stroke symptoms, and call ahead so specially trained hospital personnel are ready to begin appropriate treatment when the patient arrives.

Emergent treatment with a “clot buster” and other therapies can reduce or sometimes even eliminate stroke deficits.

And at the conclusion of the case, everyone gets feedback, including the EMS crew.

Our goal is to get stroke patients the appropriate care, FAST. And that process begins with you.

For more information on stroke risk factors, prevention, and how to spot a stroke FAST, go to

author name

Ram Chavali, MD

Ram Chavali, MD, is medical director of endovascular stroke intervention at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. Dr. Chavali has extensive experience in interventional neuroradiology and acute stroke care.

Education: Medical School–Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Sciences; Residency–Baystate Medical Center; Fellowship–Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Harvard Medical School.


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About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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