Strokes not uncommon in younger people, experts say

SAN DIEGO -- When actor Luke Perry died Monday at age 52 following a "massive" stroke, many were shocked to learn that someone at a relatively young age can die of the medical emergency.

Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, about 140,000 Americans die of a stroke and while the risk increases with age, about one-third happen in people younger than 65.

In fact, it's not uncommon for those under the age of 55 to suffer a stroke, said Dr. Mary Kalafut, director of Scripps Health Comprehensive Stroke Center.

"Stroke in a young person is not uncommon," Kalufut said, though "the etiology or the cause may be different."

Kalafut says the risk of stroke has more to do with blood flow to the brain rather than age and there are many mitigating factors, such as uncontrolled hypertension that can lead to a brain bleed and an irregular heart beat that can cause a clot to form or a blood vessel to tear.

There are no exact statistics on the number of people who suffer a stroke at a seemingly young age, as Perry did in his early 50s, but the chances more than double every decade after the age of 55.

Advances in stroke treatment are allowing more people to survive and, if treated quickly, get some if not all of their faculties back. But time is key. A stroke patient has a 24-hour window to get help.

"Treatments for stroke -- one is something called TPA. This is a clot-busting medication. This is given by IV. The second is something called embolectomy or thrombectemy. Your doctor will take a catheter, which is a little tube, feed it up to the blood vessel in the brain that's closed off."

Advances in treatment in the last couple of years have become so effective in some instances, Kalafut says the results are miraculous.

"Seeing patients that come in to the emergency room and they can't move half their body, they can't talk ... they go in for this procedure and the next day, they're almost completely back to normal. It's very exciting," Kalafut said.

Regulating one's blood pressure and blood sugar numbers are essential in stroke prevention, Kalafut said. Those 55-years-old and older, women and African-Americans have a higher risk of having a stroke.

Stroke symptoms including trouble with speaking, paralysis or numbness of the face, arm, or leg, trouble with vision in one or both eyes, headache and trouble walking, according to The Mayo Clinic.

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