The fact that Vice President Joe Biden's son recently had a stroke at the age of 41 calls attention to the fact that strokes are not limited to older people.

The fact that Vice President Joe Biden's son recently had a stroke at the age of 41 calls attention to the fact that strokes are not limited to older people.


They do not occur as frequently as they do in older people, but strokes in the younger age group are not rare.


Generally, a stroke can be caused by a brain hemorrhage or a clot. A common cause of a brain hemorrhage is the presence of a brain aneurysm. An aneurysm is a ballooning out of a group of blood vessels. If these blood vessels rupture, the blood then goes into the brain, causing a stroke.


People can be born with these aneurysms or they can occur secondary to trauma or infections. It has been estimated that 5 percent of the population have aneurysms.


Blood clots can also cause a stroke in young adults. Blood clots occur in individuals who have various blood disorders that result in hypercoagulation of the blood, resulting in clot formation.


Strokes in young people may also occur secondary to some type of heart disorder. An abnormal heart rhythm, such as atrial fibrillation, is associated with strokes.


During the formation of the heart, a wall or septum is formed to separate the upper chambers of the heart. In about 20 percent of the people this septum does not close completely. This opening is called a patent foramen ovale and is also associated with stroke.


The vast majority of times, this does not cause any symptoms. However, at times the blood may go from the right upper chamber -- the right atrium -- to the left atrium, and then out to the body. This blood may contain small clots that can then lodge in the brain, causing a stroke.


This opening of the heart can be closed, but since the majority of times it doesn't cause any trouble, there is controversy concerning when and if it should be closed.


Certain people are at a greater risk of having a stroke at a younger age. They include people with migraine headaches, high blood pressure, women on oral contraceptives and smokers. Also, those who are overweight or have a family history of strokes.


So just because you are young, don't disregard the symptoms of a stroke. Early treatment can be life-saving.


Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children (formerly the National Birth Defects Center), medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.