Santos Rodriguez woke up in March and couldn't move his left arm. By the time he got to the hospital, he could barely speak.
"I know what I was trying to say but I couldn't pronounce it. I told the nurse I'm trying to say things to you and you're not understanding me," he said.
The doctor ran a few tests, and then sent him home. But later that night, Rodriguez felt intense pains in his head. He went to a different hospital where his doctor found he had suffered three strokes. He was just 46-- part of a growing trend.
"If patients start having their strokes younger they will be left with many more years of having a disability," said Dr. Aviva Lubin, the associate stroke director at Lenox Hill Hospital.
New research from the American Academy of Neurology finds that in 2005, 19 percent of stroke patients were under the age of 55. That's up from 13 percent a decade earlier.
Doctors think the reason for this trend has to do with the increase in risk factors. More and more young people are obese and have diabetes and high cholesterol.
Rodriguez didn't know he was diabetic until after his stroke. Now, he's getting it under control with diet and insulin. With a wife and five children to support, the stroke was a frightening reality check.
"It reminds you of how things can be taken away from you," he said.
Seven months later, Rodriguez is slowly regaining strength in his arm and mentally he's nearly back to normal. He says he's committed to a healthier lifestyle, so he can be strong for his family for many years to come.
During the 10-year period covered in the study, the average age of stroke victims fell from 71 to 69.
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