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luke-perry-stoke at any age

Strokes Can Occur At Any Age

Many people were surprised when actor Luke Perry died this month at age 52 of a massive stroke. But our family practice doctors in Delray Beach know that strokes are not just confined to older people. While it’s not as common in younger people, in 2017 the American Academy of Neurology reported that adolescents and young adults represent 15 percent of all ischemic strokes (the majority of stroke cases).

Approximately 795,000 Americans a year have a stroke, and of those, about 140,000 of them die as a result. They are the fourth leading cause of death in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strokes occur in the United States once every 40 seconds, killing someone every three minutes and 45 seconds. According to the National Stroke Association, even children can suffer a stroke. In fact, it is among the top 10 causes of death in children under 18, and even occurs in the womb.

Types of strokes

In general, strokes occur when blood flow to part of the brain is interrupted, starving the cells of oxygen, which in turn causes them to begin to die off. This can happen in as little as five minutes.

Ischemic (starved of oxygen) strokes

By far the most common, representing 87 percent of all strokes, an ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks a vital blood vessel leading to the brain. If it originates from elsewhere in the body and travels to the site, it’s known as an embolic stroke. If it forms on the site, it’s called a thrombotic stroke.

Hemorrhagic (bleeding) strokes

These types of strokes occur when a blood vessel in or leading to the brain bursts. Again, in this type of stroke the brain is starved of oxygen and its cells begin to die off.

Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs)

Transient ischemic attacks produce symptoms similar to ischemic strokes but, as the name implies, they are temporary, usually lasting less than 24 hours. They can, however, be a warning of an impending stroke. About 30 percent of people who experience TIAs go on to have a full stroke within a year.

Approximately 10 percent of those who recover from a stroke do so completely, 25 percent have minor impairments afterward, 50 percent experience long-lasting impairment, and 10 percent die from a stroke.

A so-called “massive” stroke, such as that reportedly suffered by Luke Perry, affects a large part of the brain, and usually signals that recovery is less likely.

Stroke warning signs

The faster you recognize that someone may be having a stroke, the more time there is for doctors at the emergency room to stop the damage. Because time is of the essence in treating stroke, we recommend that everyone become familiar with the four warning signs of stroke. The American Stroke Association (ASA) has created a mnemonic of the word “FAST” to help you more easily remember the symptoms to look for:

Face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile to see if his/her smile is uneven or lopsided.

Arm weakness: Is the arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms to see if one arm drifts downward.

Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence to check.

Time to call 911: If someone shows any of these symptoms—even if the symptoms go away—call 911 to help get the person to the hospital immediately.

Other signs of a stroke may include:

  • trouble with speaking and understanding
  • paralysis or numbness of the face, arm, or leg
  • trouble with walking
  • headache
  • trouble with seeing in one or both eyes

Stroke prevention

Although recovery from strokes has been improving in recent years, it’s best to avoid them in the first place. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) lists the following risk factors for strokes:

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • smoking, which not only damages blood vessels and raises blood pressure, but reduces the amount of oxygen available to the body’s tissues
  • age and gender: Your risk of stroke increases as you get older, with men more likely to have strokes at younger ages, although women are more likely to die from them
  • personal or family history of strokes or TIAs

Strokes can also occur in people who don’t have any known risk factors, however.

The best ways to avoid strokes are to:

  • avoid illegal drug use, as well as alcohol
  • engage in regular physical activity
  • maintain a normal weight
  • receive treatment for excessive stress or depression
  • maintain healthy cholesterol levels
  • consume a healthy diet
  • limit use of such NSAIDs as ibuprofen and naproxen

For information on ways you can avoid a stroke at any age, please be sure to talk with us.

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