26-year-old NHL star has a stroke; shines light on symptoms in young adults

by Sunitha Santhakumar, M.D., stroke program director, Beaumont, Royal Oak

(Photo via AP)

(Photo via AP)

It was revealed last week that Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang suffered a stroke and will be out for at least six weeks. While his doctors don’t believe that this stroke will be career-threatening, the diagnosis still came as a shock to the 26-year-old Letang.

What is even more shocking is that stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Stroke has traditionally been considered a disease of elderly, but the incidence of stroke has been rising in the younger population. The risk if stroke in young adults less than age 45 is about 1 in 10,000.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease are causes off stroke at any age but specific stroke risk factors are seen in children and young adults, including cardiac abnormalities like heart valve defects, clotting disorders and use of oral contraceptives.

Letang’s stroke diagnosis came after he developed an episode of dizziness and nausea. It was also reported that Letang’s tests showed a pre-existing heart defect, called Patent Foramen Ovale or PFO, that had gone undetected. About one in four adults are noted to have a PFO, usually present since birth. PFO is a rare cause of stroke and majority of the people never have any symptoms. It is not clear if PFO is the cause or only an association.

Young people should not ignore the signs and symptoms of stroke, even though many think that a stroke can only happen to the elderly.  Therefore, education of stroke risk factors is very important. If someone is experiencing symptoms of stroke, call 9-1-1 and come to the emergency room for immediate treatment.

According to a quote on ESPN.com, Letang said he hopes that making his condition public, he can help others to seek medical help if they experience the symptoms associated with a stroke regardless of their age or general health.

This information is for educational purposes only. Dr. Santhakumar has no first-hand knowledge of Letang’s case.
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