It’s hard to believe that Luke Perry, the 52-year-old star of “90210” and “Riverdale,” died Monday after a “massive stroke” he suffered late last week.
Strokes are marked by a burst blood vessel in the brain that cuts off its oxygen supply, often with devastating results. Tragically, they’re also common: The American Heart Association reports there are about 795,000 cases per year, some 140,000 of them fatal. While most strokes afflict those aged 60 and above, nearly 10 percent occur in people under 45.
“Young people should realize that stroke is not only a disease of the elderly — it can affect anyone of any age,” says Dr. Jose Torres, neurologist at NYU Langone’s Center for Stroke and Neurovascular Diseases.
Strokes among adults between 18 and 45 have increased by more than 50 percent since Perry’s mid-1990s heyday. Unfortunately, it’s this same age group that most often ignores the warning signs.
While there’s no reliable way to predict their onset, risk factors for strokes in younger adults are often associated with a genetic predisposition, such as a congenital heart condition, where clot formation is a risk.
High blood pressure “is the biggest risk factor” for both age groups, so keeping those levels under control is crucial, Torres says. “Diseases that can lead to heart attack” — high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol — “are all intertwined with stroke risk.”
Unhealthy habits such as smoking can exacerbate these conditions, while cocaine can cause blood vessels in the brain to spasm, leading to an elevated blood pressure that can cause a hemorrhage.
Early detection can mean the difference between life and death.
“Timing is key,” says Torres, adding that “about two million neurons are damaged every minute that a part of the brain is undergoing a stroke.”
He and other physicians tell patients to remember the acronym B.E.F.A.S.T.: Balance loss, eye (vision) issues, face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty. “T” means “time to call 9-1-1.”
“There’s a lot we can do for patients if they get to us quickly,” says Torres. “The sooner they come in, the better they do overall.”
Hollywood says goodbye to Luke Perry, dead at 52
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