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A Diagnostic Approach to Stroke in Young Adults.

ABSTRACT

Optimal diagnosis and management of stroke in young adults benefit from a multidisciplinary team, including a vascular neurology specialist. In addition to the "standard" vascular risk factors including smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia, one needs to consider alternative etiologies including substance abuse, carotid/vertebral artery dissections, and rare genetic conditions among others. Once a young patient is determined to have had a stroke, the next question a clinician should ask is why did this patient have a stroke? A "heart to head" diagnostic approach is recommended. A thorough history is performed, including a detailed family history with specific annotations on each family member. A thorough physical examination is necessary including a careful evaluation of the patient's general appearance, noting any joint laxity, and/or abnormalities of the skin, eyes, and heart. Findings across multiple organ systems in the patient and/or their family may indicate a genetic etiology. After an initial head CT rules out hemorrhagic stroke, additional testing should include a brain MRI, neck and cerebral vascular imaging (e.g., CTA for head and neck), transthoracic echocardiogram with a bubble study, telemetry monitoring, basic risk factor blood work (e.g., lipid panel, hemoglobin A1c, TSH, ESR, CRP, RPR, HIV, and toxicology screen), and, when appropriate, sickle screen and pregnancy test. There should be a low threshold to obtain blood cultures or a lumbar puncture. The acute treatment of ischemic stroke in young adult patients does not differ from treatment of older adults, using intravenous alteplase within 4.5 h, assuming no contraindications. In suspected proximal large artery occlusive disease, interventional clot extraction procedures should be employed in patients deemed eligible. Long-term secondary prevention strategies aimed to reduce recurrent stroke risk by targeting and modifying vascular risk factors should be instituted. The mainstay of preventative therapy is aspirin for most etiologies; however, for atrial fibrillation, anticoagulation is recommended. Statin therapy is another pharmacologic intervention recommended in most stroke patients. Other measures employed are blood pressure reduction, smoking cessation, optimal glucose control in diabetic patients, the initiation of a healthy diet and regular exercise, and lastly, substance abuse counseling in appropriate patients.