In wake of Luke Perry’s death, a renewed focus on stroke |
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If you’re wondering how it’s possible that Luke Perry died from a stroke at only 52 years old, you might be surprised.

It’s more common to suffer a stroke earlier in life than some may think.

Dr. Rick Williamson, director of endovascular neurosurgery at Allegheny General Hospital, said out of the roughly 800,000 people who have a stroke each year about 20 percent are people in their 30s and 40s. Although technically still considered rare, that’s around 160,000 young people each year.

“We kind of think of stroke that affects just older people and that’s not necessarily true,” he said. “People of all ages are at risk.”

Perry, who starred in “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Riverdale,” died Monday after being hospitalized for a stroke a few days earlier. No details have been released.

Williamson said most strokes happen when a blood vessel that brings oxygen to the brain is either blocked or ruptured, cutting off blood flow to a portion of the brain.

He said in either case there are factors that put some people at a higher risk including uncontrolled medical problems such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, as well as being a smoker. There also some genetic risks if immediate family members such as a parent or grandparent has suffered a stroke.

“We certainly recommend for young people who have those medical problems that we’re very aggressive about keeping those problems under control to reduce that risk long term,” Williamson said.

Williamson said men and women are equally affected by strokes.

According to the American Stroke Association, the following are symptoms of a stroke using the acronym F.A.S.T: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech and Time to call 911.

Other symptoms are:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, leg or side of the body

• Sudden confusion, including trouble speaking or understanding speech

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden trouble walking with dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Williamson said it’s important to get to the emergency room as soon as possible if you notice you’re having symptoms because it could increase the chances of surviving.

“If it’s something we can treat and reverse then the long term effects on the brain tend to be less severe,” he said.

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