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5 diseases you might not think about when you're young

| Monday, Oct. 3, 2016, 7:54 p.m.

When you're young, you might think you're invincible and can take on the world. But even when we're young, there are some diseases that can have a significant impact on your health. Here are five diseases that might not be on your radar before you're even close to being “over the hill.”

Stroke

About 800,000 Americans will suffer from a stroke each year, and one American will die from a stroke every four minutes. The acronym “FAST” can help you quickly recognize symptoms of a stroke and limit potentially devastating effects. But it's not just the elderly we should be watching for. The risk of stroke can increase with age, but one in every five strokes occurs in adults between 20 and 55. The Pittsburgh Penguins' Kris Letang suffered a stroke at 26, an example of the declining average age of stroke in America. If you think someone might be having a stroke, do the following simple test:

F — Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A — Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S — Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

T — Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately. Although different types of strokes require different treatment, quickly recognizing stroke symptoms in all ages is the first key step.

Heart diseases

Not too many people are shocked when a 65-year-old man has a heart attack, but when a professional NFL football player dies from a heart attack at 37, people start wondering how that's possible. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, and it accounts for one out of every four deaths in Pittsburgh. Now, it is true that heart disease in younger people may not always be the result of plaques, but it can occur as the heart loses its normal rhythm or doesn't pump efficiently. So don't assume that if you are in your 30s and experiencing chest pain, palpations or shortness of breath with exertion that it can't be your heart. Because it might be time to have your ticker examined.

Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's at 35? It is unusual, but it can happen. Most patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the age of 65 or older, but science has found a rare genetic mutation that can result in early-onset Alzheimer's as young as 30. About every minute, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer's, and approximately 5 percent of those patients are early-onset cases. Don't panic if you occasionally forget where you left the keys every once in a while, but check with your doctor if it begins to disrupt your daily life or if you have difficulty completing familiar tasks.

Lupus

Are your joints aching already? The culprit might not be years of cracking your knuckles or arthritis. If you're young and experiencing aching joints or feeling tired, you might have the same disease as Selena Gomez — lupus.

Lupus affects nearly 5 million people worldwide and most commonly affects women between 15 and 44. Symptoms of lupus often imitate other diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, thyroid problems and a number of heart, lung, muscle and bone diseases. Lupus symptoms may come and go, but if you're feeling a little off, it might be worth a trip to the doctor.

Thyroid disease

As a medical student, I often thought of an elderly woman as someone who would have thyroid disease. But now we know that hyperthyroidism often starts in one's 20s and 30s. Your thyroid levels might be off if you have symptoms of anxiety, irritability, difficulty sleeping, muscle weakness, rapid heartbeat or tremors. Women are 10 times more likely to be affected than men, and if you have a family history of thyroid or autoimmune diseases, be sure to get proper treatment in order to avoid complications such as heart and bone problems.

Dr. John Whyte is the former chief medical expert at Discovery Channel. He is a board-certified physician in Washington, D.C., and best-selling author. Reach him at drjohnwhyte@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @drjohnwhyte.

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