After the death of actor Luke Perry, known for his role on Beverly Hills, 90210, people have a lot of questions about strokes, and we can understand why. Perry (whose most recent role was on the CW’s Riverdale as Fred Andrews, Archie’s father) died yesterday after suffering a massive stroke at only 52 years old, which has left many wondering, What causes a massive stroke? And how common is it at such a young age? Here, everything you need to know about strokes.

What is a stroke?

Often called a “brain attack,” a stroke is a reduction in blood supply to the brain due to a blockage or bleeding. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, brain cells begin to die within minutes. As a result, a person can lose critical functions, such as memory, mobility, and muscle control. This is why rapid treatment—within three hours of the first symptom—is crucial. There are different types of strokes, and not every stroke results in permanent damage. Many people don’t even realize they’re having a stroke as it’s happening, according to research from Oxford University.

What causes a stroke?

A stroke can be caused by either a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the brain (called an ischemic stroke) or the leaking or bursting of a blood vessel in the brain (called a hemorrhagic stroke), according to the Mayo Clinic. If the reduction of blood flow to the brain is only temporary, meaning there’s no permanent damage, it’s called a transient ischemic attack, or a mini-stroke.

When a stroke is caused by a blocked artery, a blood clot is to blame. However, when a stroke happens because a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, high blood pressure or overuse of blood thinners can be the culprit.

What are the risk factors for a stroke?

Stroke risk increases with age. In fact, every 10 years after age 55, stroke risk nearly doubles, according to the American Stroke Association. However, as we learned with Perry’s death, that doesn’t mean younger people are in the clear. Roughly one-third of Americans hospitalized for strokes are younger than 65, according to the CDC. And strokes are actually on the rise in younger people, according to the American Heart Association.

Risk factors for stroke include being overweight, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, heavy use of alcohol, and use of illegal drugs, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some medical conditions, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease, can put you at risk as well. Men have a higher risk of stroke than women. However, women are usually older when they have strokes and are more likely to die of strokes than men, according to the Mayo Clinic.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

Early warning signs to look for are a sudden onset of dizziness or severe headache. Other symptoms include difficulty speaking, confusion, weakness, numbness, vision problems, trouble balancing or walking, and paralysis on one side of the face or body.

As we mentioned before, treatment within three hours of the first symptom is crucial. If you’re worried you or someone you know could be suffering a stroke, dial 911. The quicker the treatment, the better the outcome might be.

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