The New, Younger Face of Stroke:

Capital Health Neuroscience Institute Treating an Increasing Number of Younger Stroke Patients

Physicians Fear Many are Misdiagnosed as Symptoms Go Unrecognized

July 23, 2012 –Neurosurgeons at Capital Institute for Neurosciences say they are treating many stroke patients in their 30s and 40s – reflecting U.S. Centers for Disease Control data showing a rise in the serious brain condition among younger adults.

Dr. Erol Veznedaroglu, director of the Capital Institute for Neurosciences and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Capital Health, said stroke symptoms should not be dismissed in people who do not fit the traditional profile of an elderly stroke patient.

“Stroke needs to be treated quickly, but there are cases where younger patients experiencing stroke are shoved to the corner of an emergency department. They are misdiagnosed as drug users, or suffering from complex migraines. Sometimes women are labeled with 'histrionic behavior.' There have been all kinds of other diagnoses,” said Dr. Veznedaroglu, also known as Dr. Vez. He describes such cases when he lectures about the latest in neuroscience care.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that hospitalization rates for ischemic stroke in patients ages 15 to 44 increased by 37 percent between 1995 and 2008. Ischemic stroke occurs when an artery to the brain is blocked, reducing crucial blood flow to the brain.

Dr. Veznedaroglu said stroke has specific symptoms, such as numbness or weakness on one side of the body; sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; or a sudden, severe headache, all of which require immediate treatment. Patients experiencing any of these symptoms need to call 911 immediately.

One of the lucky ones is Kathy Doyle, who at the time of her stroke was a 36-year-old third grade teacher from Little Egg Harbor who had just two weeks prior given birth to her third child. Sitting in the car while her husband ran in to get coffee at a local Dunkin Donuts, she recalled a blinding pain and the feeling that her left side had “melted away.” Her husband, a police officer, immediately recognized the symptoms of stroke and took her to the local emergency department, where a CT scan was done and she was given IV tPA. On the advice of the emergency room physician, she was transferred to the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center of NJ at Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton.

At Capital Health, an angiogram indicated a clot in the main artery supplying blood to Kathy's brain. Using a Merci Retriever™, an interventional treatment Dr. Vez and his colleague Dr. Kenneth Liebman helped investigate during its trial phase, Dr. Veznedaroglu threaded a device from a blood vessel in Kathy's groin area all the way into the blocked blood vessel in her brain. The retriever captured the clot and pulled the clog from her brain. After the procedure, Kathy was alert, speaking and moving her left side.

“I went in there hanging on to life—no feeling, no speech,” Kathy said. “To wake up and have it come back was quite simply a miracle. I was blessed that I was sent to the right place, where I was treated by a team that had significant experience using the latest treatments available.”

Stroke researchers have said higher rates of traditional risk factors for stroke, such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, may be responsible for the increase in stroke among younger people.

Dr. Veznedaroglu said prompt and proper stroke treatment can make the difference between a patient living a normal life or living a life of long-term disability. “We need better education about stroke,” he said. “We need to look at the symptoms and not at the age of the patient.”

For interviews with Dr. Veznedaroglu or Kathy Doyle, please call Steffanie Archbald at 609-815-7624.

About Capital Health

Capital Health Regional Medical Center is a state designated Comprehensive Stroke Center which establishes it as a leader in providing advanced care for patients suffering from stroke. The healthcare system’s new hospital in Hopewell Township is a state designated Primary Stroke Center. Capital Health has also received certification from The Joint Commission -- the gold standard for stroke care. Capital Health is home of the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center of New Jersey and the Capital Institute for Neurosciences, which gives the hospital an even greater ability to treat the most critical cerebrovascular patients utilizing the most advanced technologies and treatments. The hospital offers one of only a handful of neurosurgical intensive care units in the state and last year opened the country’s first Center for Neurologic Emergency Medicine at its Regional Medical Center, a dedicated emergency program for patients requiring emergency care involving the brain, spine or central nervous system.

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