Drinking alcohol may increase the risk of having a stroke in your 20s and 30s, study finds – USA TODAY

When most people think of a stroke patient, they often picture someone over 65. 
But experts say the rate of strokes is increasing among young people, and a new study suggests alcohol consumption may have something to do with it.
Researchers used a Korean national health database to study 1.5 million people in their 20s and 30s and asked them about their alcohol consumption over the course of six years, according to the study published Wednesday in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. 
They found young people who were considered moderate to heavy drinkers were more likely to have a stroke compared with those who were considered light drinkers or didn’t drink alcohol at all.
“We’re always looking for why strokes are happening in this younger age range. This could be a factor that could be useful,” said Dr. Shazam Hussain, director of the Cerebrovascular Center at Cleveland Clinic, who’s not affiliated with the study.
In the study, people who drank 105 grams or more of alcohol a week were considered moderate or heavy drinkers. That translates to about 15 grams a day, or slightly more than one drink a day, according to U.S. standards.
Out of the 1.5 million participants, more than 3,150 had a stroke during the study. Authors said the link between alcohol intake and stroke was primarily found in hemorrhagic strokes, which is when a blood vessel causes bleeding inside the brain.
Researchers also found the risk of stroke increased with the number of years of moderate to heavy drinking. People with two years of drinking had a 19% increased risk, people with three years had 22%, and people with four years had 23%.
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Although earlier research has shown a correlation between heavy alcohol consumption and strokes, health experts say this study is particularly important because it focuses on young people. 
“Stroke in young adults severely impacts both the individual and society by limiting their activities during their most productive years,” said study author Dr. Eue-Keun Choi, professor at the Seoul National University College of Medicine. “If we could prevent stroke in young adults by reducing alcohol consumption, that could potentially have a substantial impact on the health of individuals and the overall burden of stroke on society.”
The study controlled for some factors known to influence the risk of stroke, including high blood pressure, smoking and body mass index. 
Study limitations include the fact participants may not have been honest about their drinking habits in the survey, and it didn’t factor for “all of the lifestyle things that may go along with someone engaging in this type of drinking compared to someone who isn’t,” said Dr. Brandon Giglio, director of vascular neurology at New York University Langone Hospital–Brooklyn, who’s not affiliated with the study.
Some health experts also don’t recommend applying the study’s findings too broadly in the U.S. Previous research has found Asian Americans are more likely than white Americans to have a ischemic stroke, when a blood clot blocks blood vessels to the brain, and experience worse outcomes. 
“Trying to compare these very distinct populations to one another can be difficult to generalize globally, or even generalize to the typical American,” Giglio said. 
Experts say a stroke is only one of many health consequences associated with excessive drinking. Another study published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open estimated more than 20% of deaths in the U.S. among adults 20 to 49 are from excessive drinking.
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According to the American Heart Association, strokes among people under 49 have been increasing over the past 30 years, particularly among people in the South and Midwest. 
With the holidays approaching, health experts urge young adults to be aware of how much they’re drinking during celebrations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends men limit their alcohol consumption to two drinks or less a day and women to one drink or less.
They also encourage young people to learn how to recognize the signs and respond to a stroke through the acronym B.E.F.A.S.T.
Strokes can lead to cognitive, physical and social impairments to patients of any age, but a quick response can limit the damage, experts say. 
“You’re talking about someone who is in the prime of their life,” Hussain said. “The impact to their lives can be pretty profound, so it’s important they know those symptoms to prevent death and disability.” 
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT. 
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.


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