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Special Report: Strokes on the rise among younger adults, how you can protect yourself

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- There are lots of health issues we believe happen at an older age, but a growing number of people in their 20's and 30's are having strokes.

Medical experts say what you are doing every day could be contributing to that.

Matthew Dean didn't think he'd ever be the one riding in an ambulance. He was a picture of health, a firefighter, a runner, and a non-drinker and non-smoker. He was at work when he first got the sign.

"I took my jacket off and I realized my right arm wasn't moving. It was completely dead, I couldn't move it or anything," said stroke survivor Matthew Dean.

He couldn't speak and soon he realized he was having a stroke at 37-years-old.

"The entire time on my ambulance ride, my son and my wife, just like how can I be doing this to them? That's what was going through my head," said Dean.

Matthew's story is part of an increasing trend, according to the Aurora Neurologist that treated him.

"Almost 20% of strokes happening today are less than 65 years of age," said Dr. Rehan Sajjad, a Neurologist at Aurora Health Care.

A 2017 study found a 42% increase among men and a 30% increase among women ages 35 to 44 in stroke hospitalization rate and that's not all.

"We used to see diabetes and hypertension spike around age 50, now we're seeing it down into the 30's and even into the 20's," said Dr. Regina Vidaver with the Wisconsin Department of Health SErvices.

Experts are split on what is causing the increases. Some studies point to causes like IV drug use, migraine headaches, smoking, and even birth control usage. Most seem to agree that a person's lifestyle and rising obesity rates are a big risk factor.

"The only risk factor we found in Matthew's case was slightly high cholesterol. There are some rare conditions, we didn't find any on Matthew, he did not have congenital or genetic. His heart workup was normal," said Dr. Sajjad.

So what do younger people need to do? Experts say it's not a bad idea to cut down on those drive-thru meals and balance your diet, regularly exercising, and start asking in your 20's and 30's about screening tests for cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar."

Matthew has made a full recovery but that may not have happened if he didn't get to the hospital quick enough.

That's why the acronym to recognize a stroke is called "BE FAST."

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