Reporting Dr. Maria Simbra
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When you hear things like stroke, Alzheimer’s and gout, you usually think of those as affecting older people.
However, there’s a list of diseases out there that are hitting people younger and younger.
Take breast cancer, for instance.
“I’ve seen women in their 30s with breast cancer, unfortunately,” Dr. Marc Itskowitz, an internist at Allegheny General Hospital, said.
It happened to Mary Heath when she was pregnant with her second child.
“I noticed a lump in my right breast, but being pregnant, we just thought [it was a] clogged milk duct,” she said.
After a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy, her doctor gave her the bad news.
“When she told me it was just disbelief. I thought, ‘How is this possible?’ I hadn’t even had a mammogram yet. I was only 35,” she said.
She found out she had a genetic mutation that made breast cancer more likely.
While it’s not in every case, family history can point to risk which is prompting some women to start mammograms at an earlier age.
“We want to start screening preferably 10 years before their family member was diagnosed,” Dr. Itskowitz said.
Another is stroke.
In older people, it’s often because of high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
However, in younger people, it can happen because of a clotting problem or a tear in the major neck arteries.
This can happen after a blow to the neck, or even from simply riding a roller coaster.
Diabetes is also increasingly being seen in young people hand-in-hand with the obesity epidemic.
“It used to be called adult onset diabetes, but we’ve done away with that terminology because we’re now seeing children with what’s called Type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Itskowitz said.
Another disease hitting earlier these days is gout, which is a type of agonizing arthritis that comes from uric acid buildup in joints.
“I’m seeing a fair amount of gout in people who are 30s, 40s, and 50s I’d say over the last three to four years, than for example, when I was training – most of the gout was in 60s, 70s, 80-year-old patients,” AGH arthritis specialist Dr. Fotios Koumpouras said. “We think diet plays a large role for why younger patients are getting gout.”
“Some of the things you shouldn’t be doing when you have a gout inflammation I was still doing, like having red meat, and having alcohol,” Bob Fratto, of Pittsburgh, said.
Luckily, with lifestyle change and medication gout, and its painful attacks, can be controlled.
Bone-thinning osteoporosis is usually seen in post-menopausal women with calcium loss. But, it can occur in pre-menopausal women. The causes are different, though.
“Many of the patients who have osteoporosis at a young age have a secondary cause, like vitamin D deficiency, or may be on chronic steroids,” Dr. Itskowitz said.
Almost any disease affecting older people can start at an earlier age — for example, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and melanoma.
Some of this may be related to genetics, but for the part that is related to things you can do something about — exercise, a healthy diet, and stopping smoking are ways to lower your risk.