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Higher screen time can lead to stroke

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By: Dr Vipul Gupta

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 deadly disease that has recently been linked to it.

Post COVID era, digital screen time has gone up throughout the world, pertaining to the transformation to the online platforms. With many professionals working from home as well as students attending classes online, screen time has increased exponentially. It is a lesser-known fact that the higher screen time is directly linked with a plethora of co-morbidities including the risk for stroke, diabetes and heart diseases. Every hour increase in screen time beyond the recommendation increases stroke risk by nearly 20%.

Multiple studies have shrinkage or loss of tissue volume in gray matter areas (where “processing” occurs) in internet/gaming addiction, Areas affected included the important frontal lobe, which governs executive functions, such as planning, planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control

According to the World Stroke Organization (WSO), one in four persons will suffer from a stroke attack in their lifetime. But a critical question that medical community is facing about stroke risk is that not only 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.

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. Similar process takes place in developing addiction with the screens.

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. “Dr Vipul Gupta, Head of neurointervention stroke team at Artemis said that he is frequently observing young patients with stroke who have sedentary life style associated with excessive screen time which predisposes to risk factoers such as obesity, bad eating habits, hypertension and diabetes.”

(The author is director Neurointervention, Agrim Institute of Neuroscience, ARTEMIS hospital Gurugram)

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