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Luke Perry was too young to have a stroke and other myths

Nicole Villalpando
In this Jan. 26, 2011 file photo, actor Luke Perry poses for a portrait in New York. Perry, who gained instant heartthrob status as wealthy rebel Dylan McKay on "Beverly Hills, 90210," died Monday after a massive stroke, his publicist said. He was 52. [AP Photo/Jeff Christensen, File]

Luke Perry dead at 52 of a stroke. Really? The news Monday came as a shock to many people that someone who will forever be in his 20s and 30s to us would die at age 52 of a stroke. Isn't that something that happens when you're older?

Not necessarily. Dr. Angel Pulido,a vascular neurologist and stroke medical director at St. David’s Medical Center, says a recent study found that about 34 percent of people hospitalized for stroke were younger than 65.

"What we're realizing now is that what was traditionally a disease of the elderly, people are having strokes younger," he says.

Of the patients he sees, he estimates about 20 percent to 25 percent are younger than 65. Anyone can have a stroke, even children.

There are some traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and tobacco use. Those risk factors are also being seen at a younger age, which could be why strokes are happening to younger people.

Younger people also might have strokes because of a genetic condition or because of drug use, particularly cocaine and methamphetamine.

The age you have a stroke doesn't indicate how big of a stroke you might have, and the amount of impairment depends more on the size of the stroke than age, but a younger brain does help in recovery, Pulido says.

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Stroke at a young age can be very debilitating and is a leading cause of disability in adults, Pulido says. It can cause things like weakness in one side of the body, difficulty with speech, and problems with vision.

"It can get better with time with therapy," he says, "but some people are left with lifelong deficits."

To help prevent strokes, Pulido recommends:

  • Maintain a healthy diet and exercise.
  • Know your family history and make your doctor aware.
  • See your doctor regularly.
  • Check your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Be aware of the symptoms of stroke. Remember the FAST acronym:

Facial droop. Look for changes in the face's appearance and differences from one side to the other.

Arm weakness. One arm is weaker than the other, or when you raise both arms, one drops.

Speech difficulty. It might be trouble getting the words out or understanding the words or garbled speech.

Time. Call 9-1-1 to get to the hospital right away if you have any of the these symptoms.

In addition to these symptoms, get help if you have a sudden severe headache, difficulty with vision or losing vision or vision that looks like a half moon, or dizziness or balance problems.

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The time element is important. Do not take a nap, do not get in the car to drive to the hospital. Do not wait.

Emergency medical services personnel are trained to know which hospitals are stroke centers where you can get help right away with stroke treatment available. A stroke medicine called IV TPA has to be given within 4 1/2 hours. In some strokes, the blood clot can be surgically removed within the first six hours, sometimes longer.

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People aren't great at getting to the hospital within those time windows, though. Most people come in after 4 1/2 hours, Pulido says. Only about 5 percent to 7 percent can get the medication, he says.

"Don't ignore the symptoms," he says. "If your body is telling you there's something wrong, there is probably something wrong. The longer you wait, the less options there are for treatment."

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