Luke Perry, who shot to fame as a teen rebel heart throb on the hit 1990s series ‘Beverly Hills, 90210,’ tragically died on Monday after suffering a massive stroke last week. He was aged just 52.
While many of us might assume that strokes are something that affect the older generation, Luke’s death has served as a stark warning that strokes can impact younger people, too.
While the risk doubles each decade after the age of 55, strokes can occur at any point in a person’s life. Recent statistics released by Public Health England (PHE) found that over a third (38%) of first time strokes happen in middle-aged adults (between the ages of 40 to 69).
Additionally, more first-time strokes are now occurring at an earlier age compared to a decade ago.
“Strokes can happen to people of all ages, contrary to the belief that young people are not affected,” warns Dr Emer MacSweeney, Consultant Neuroradiologist at Re:Cognition Health. “Risk factors which make people more susceptible to stroke include high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, pregnancy, contraceptive pill, migraine and smoking.”
A stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in the UK with around 32,000 related deaths in England each year.
But not all strokes are the same and often the ability to recover can depend on the severity of the attack.
What causes a stroke?
According to Dr MacSweeney strokes occur when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, depriving the brain cells of oxygen which causes them to die.
“Functions controlled by that particular part of the brain e.g. muscle movement, vision, speech, memory are lost as a result of the death of the brain cells,” she explains.
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There are three main types of strokes
Ischaemic, which are the most common, occurs where the blood supply is stopped because of a blood clot. They account for 85% of all stroke cases.
Haemorrhagic, where a weakened blood vessel supplying the brain bursts impacting the surrounding brain cells.
According to the Stroke Association a transient ischaemic attack or TIA is also known as a mini-stroke.
“It is the same as a stroke, except that the symptoms only last for a short amount of time,” the site explains. “This is because the blockage that stops the blood getting to your brain is temporary.”
How to spot someone is having a stroke
The symptoms of stroke can vary from person to person and may depend on the type of stroke someone is having, but the NHS uses the F.A.S.T acronym to list the main signs as:
Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have drooped.
Arms – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm.
Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake.
Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms.
Dr Andrew Thornber, Chief Medical Officer at Now Patient says other symptoms to watch out for include a severe headache with no known cause, dizziness or loss of co-ordination, balance issues and problems with coordination, vision problems in one or both eyes, numbness or weakness in the face and difficulty swallowing.
What to do if someone you are with is having a stroke
“Time is essential when having a stroke, therefore it is essential to act fast,” explains Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, Director and GP at Your Doctor. “The quicker the stroke victim gets to the hospital, the faster the doctors can try to reduce the effects of the stroke.”
Dr Di Cuffa says you should call 999 as soon as possible if someone you are with is experiencing any stroke symptoms. “Never wait to see if it is going to get better independently,” he adds.
He also says you should never leave a stroke victim. “Additional harm could be done if they were to fall over and injure themselves therefore it is essential that you are there for guidance and help,” he explains.
“Don’t offer them any food or medicine. Take note of any medication they are taking, the time the stroke took place and tell the medical team as they will need all the information they can get.”
Treating a stroke
According to the NHS treatment depends on the type of stroke you have, including which part of the brain was affected and what caused it.
Strokes are usually treated with medication, including medicines to prevent and dissolve blood clots, reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels.
In some cases, procedures may be required to remove blood clots. Surgery may also be required to treat brain swelling and reduce the risk of further bleeding in cases of haemorrhagic strokes.
What happens after a stroke?
Dr Di Cuffa says the consequence of a stroke is dependent on what side of the brain is damaged and how much damage the brain tissue has received.
“Usually if the left side of the brain is damaged then the right side of the body will have neurological complications and vice versa,” he explains. “If the right side of the brain is affected, then you may experience vision problems whilst if the left side of the brain is affected speech problems may be apparent.”
Dr Di Cuffa says that common side effects after a stroke are extreme fatigue and depression and recovery from a stroke will vary depending on how much damage the brain has injured.
It is estimated that around a third (30%) of people who have a stroke will go on to experience another stroke.
Are there any ways to reduce your stroke-risk
Dr Emer MacSweeney says the key to preventing a stroke is to take control of your health, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and addressing any potential risk factors.
- Consult with your GP to identify any health concerns such as diabetes, obesity, migraine, blood pressure, cholesterol and genetic diseases.
- Exercise regularly – Exercise provides good blood flow to the brain and is also thought to encourage brain cell growth and survival. Exercise vigorously three times a week for 20 minutes or moderately five times a week for 40 minutes to optimise health
- Maintain a health BMI which is used to estimate the total amount of body fat. Adults should have a BMI between 18.5-24.9 (there are some exceptions to the rule such as muscle mass, height, ethnicity etc)
- Eat a balanced diet which is low in saturated fats and sugar and rich in nutrients from fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, pulses, proteins and essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6 found in oily fish, nuts and seeds).
- Avoid excessive drinking, recreational drugs and smoking which affect the blood supply to the brain.
“Remember, what is good for the heart is good for the brain!” she adds.