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Digital Detox to cut stroke risk among younger population

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Dr Vipul Gupta

Since the COVID pandemic has shaken the world, the number of daily cases reported is on the rise. Along with this the addiction to screen   has picked up pace giving rise to a new pandemic – A pandemic of addiction to screen.

According to the World Stroke Organization (WSO), one in four persons will suffer from a stroke attack in their lifetime. But a pertinent question that has transposed the notion of stroke risk is that instead of the geriatric population being highly vulnerable, the younger population is now equally seen susceptible to a stroke attack.

Earlier, stroke was considered to be a disease of the elderly (people in the age bracket of 60 years and above) but in recent years more stroke attacks are seen in the younger population. A current study elaborated that even though the overall incidence of stroke saw a downward trend in the recent years, there was striking rise in the incidence of stroke among the younger aged 25 to 45 years. In comparison to US, and other developed countries, India has a much higher prevalence of stroke cases among the younger group, which are almost double.

Stroke has been considered to be one of the most common and leading causes of morbidity and disability. It is estimated that, in every 40 seconds someone suffers from stroke and a person dies of stroke in every four minutes globally. While increased screen time is known to result in adverse health outcomes, stroke is one such complication that has recently been linked to it.

More Screen time – higher the stroke risk

According to a recent US based study, the digital screen time has been found to be inversely proportional with the life expectancy. As per the study, for every hour of digital screen time, the life expectancy reduces by upto 22 minutes. The amount of screen time also had adverse outcomes including heart attacks, stroke, and cancer.

A large scale study from the United Kingdom with over 40,000 participants concluded that the stroke risk was significantly higher when screen time was more than 2 hours a day. Higher physical activity (1 hour walk a day for seven days a week) offered some protection against the adverse effects of prolonged screen time. In fact the cancer risk also increased with an increase in screen time.

One develops an addiction to the screen over a period of time and can be looked upon similar to addiction to recreational substances. There is a constant balance in the brain between the center for rationalization (decision making) and the centers for motivation and rewards. Over time, the center for motivation and reward has an upper hand over the center for rationalization at which point addiction behavior develops.

A certain chemical substance called dopamine increases in the brain when an activity results in a pleasurable experience. With time a person addicted to screen would no longer perceive his/her favorite food, family and vacation time as a pleasurable experience anymore. This is because the threshold for dopamine levels that results in a rewarding experience increases.

Beyond 2 hours, every hour spend in front of the digital screen raises the risk of stroke by 20% a major contributing factor for stroke risk among the younger population.

What can one do to negate the effects of prolonged screen time? Researchers have found that if one resorts to 2 minutes – 5 minutes of physical activity for every 20 minutes spent on the screen, it significantly reduced the chance of developing diabetes and obesity.

Avoid blue light emitting devices when you go to bed. This reduces the amount of melatonin, a chemical substance that switched your brain from the wake to the sleep state. Using a device at night will prevent you from sleeping and in turn predispose you to a higher risk of stroke.

With recommendations and conclusions from the study explained that toddlers within 2 years of age should strictly refrain from digital screens, and an adult aged 16+ should maximum expose only two hours a day to cut down on the long-term risk of stroke.

Risk of stroke in younger population

Apart from other major factors contributing for stroke, regular physical inactivity also accounts for the onset of stroke at an early age. Regular exercise not only helps in maintaining the overall health but also keeps at bay a list full of diseases. Other major ailments that are related to raise the risk of stroke include hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol levels.

Hypertension is one of the biggest risk factors for stroke, attributing to over 50% of ischemic strokes (due to blockage) and increasing the chances of hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain). Thus regular exercise helps in maintaining the blood pressure levels, thereby reducing the risk for brain stroke by upto 80%.

As it is a well known fact that, diabetics have a twice likely chance to suffer from stroke, as the increased blood sugar levels damages all the major blood vessels providing as a gateway for onset of ischemic stroke. Regular exercising not only helps in controlling the blood glucose levels but also curbs down the chances of developing a stroke attack in diabetics.

A high cholesterol level in the body is another attributing factor for stroke. With increased levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) the risk for plaque buildup also increases causing atherosclerosis. This makes them prone to losing the integrity of their lining leading to formation of clots, which in turn can prevents blood flow and leads to a stroke. Lack of physical exercise leads to major complications and can have devastating effect on the vascular system of the brain as well. Following regular exercise pattern and balanced diet, one can maintain the ratio of good cholesterol in the body.

Stroke is treatable

Stroke is a reversible disease provided one comes to the hospital on time and the appropriate treatment is provided. In almost 70% of the cases, all the symptoms can be reduced/ reversed.

Delay of every minute in seeking the right treatment leads to loss of about 20 lakh brain cells and hence it becomes a time dependent therapy. The golden window period to arrive to a stroke unit should be within six hours of stroke attack, delaying which would lead to irreversible damage causing permanent disability in around 80% of the cases. Now with recent advances, and imaging techniques, first 24 hours of stroke are very important for reversal of the condition.

Stroke is Treatable, and this is the message we are helping to promote on World Stroke Day (29 October). Early recognition makes a big difference and can lead to unbelievable outcomes during treatment. We encourage the public to recognize and learn the signs of stroke – FAST (Face drooping; Arm weakness; Speech slurred; Time to call an ambulance) and know to take immediate action. With the advancement in technology and expertise, the brain blood vessels can be repaired now by minimal invasive neuro-intervention techniques.

  • The author is Director, Neurointervention, Agrim institute of neuroscience, ARTEMIS hospital Gurgaon.

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