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Think You’re Too Young to Suffer a Stroke? Think again.

The deaths of actor Luke Perry and director John Singleton are important reminders that strokes don't just affect the elderly.

Posted by Marissa Oller-Cramsie, DO, Holy Name Medical Partners Neurologist on April 26, 2019

Marissa Oller-Cramsie, DO, Holy Name Medical Partners Neurologist

It was shocking news for Luke Perry fans: The beloved actor had died of a massive stroke. The recent news about the stroke death of "Boyz N the Hood" director John Singleton doubled the shock. They were 52 and 51 years old, begging the question, why?

Marissa Oller-Cramsie, DO, a neurologist with Holy Name Medical Partners, says contrary to popular belief, a stroke can happen at any age.

"I watched 'Beverly Hills 90210,' Luke Perry was from my generation, and after his death so many people called asking how this could have happened," says Dr. Oller-Cramsie. "Treating and managing stroke in younger people requires a different approach because you need to look for different causes. Compared with stroke in older people, a stroke in the young is typically a result of different risk factors."

A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area in the brain is cut off. There are typically two main types of stroke. The first, called an ischemic stroke, happens when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain is obstructed by a clot. The second, called a hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures, causing swelling and pressure inside the brain. In both cases, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die, functions like speech, muscle, and memory control can be affected.

Dr. Oller-Cramsie says there are a variety of risk factors associated with having a stroke earlier in life. Here, she dispels some of the myths associated with strokes:

True or False: There Are No Warning Signs Prior to a Stroke.

True. In fact, the reason it is called a stroke is because it happens so quickly.

"A precursor, for some people, is a transient ischemic attack, or TIA," explains Dr. Oller-Cramsie. "A TIA is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain causing brief stroke-like symptoms. Because damage isn’t permanent, a TIA can be ignored easily. Evidence shows a TIA vastly increases the chance of a full-blown stroke."

True or False: Strokes Rarely Happen in Young People.

False. Nearly a quarter of strokes occur in people younger than 65. Infants can even suffer from a stroke, and, regardless of age, the results are the same: problems with motor function, speech, confusion, and/or unsteadiness. Young people, however, may not realize they are having a stroke and ignore the symptoms because they assume a stroke can't happen to them.

True or False: It's Hard to Tell When Someone Is Having a Stroke.

False. The signs and symptoms are easy to detect when one knows what to look for. If a person is experiencing the sudden onset of facial droop, limb weakness, and/or difficulty speaking, immediately seek medical attention.

Think of the acronym FAST:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm or leg weakness
  • Speech difficulties
  • Time to call 911

"Time is of the essence when it comes to suffering a stroke," says Dr. Oller-Cramsie. "The sooner the person gets to a hospital, the quicker he or she can receive life-saving treatment."

True or False: More Women Suffer Strokes than Men.

True. Statistics show women suffer strokes more frequently than men. According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the third leading cause of death for women. One explanation for this is that women, on average, live longer than men, which increases their risk of stroke."

True or False: There's Nothing I Can Do to Prevent a Stroke.

This is assuredly false. "There is a lot you can do to prevent a stroke," says Dr. Oller-Cramsie. "High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle are all risk factors." She recommends maintaining an appropriate weight, eating healthy, and discussing an appropriate plan of care with your doctor. Exercising regularly and avoiding excessive drinking and smoking can also help prevent strokes.

True or False: Strokes May Be Genetic.

True. "You can't fight genetics," says Dr. Oller-Cramsie. "But you can go for a yearly check-up so your primary care physician can assess modifiable risk factors."

Although no one knows for sure why strokes are increasing in the young and the middle-aged, risk factors such as unmanaged hypertension and high cholesterol, typically more common in patients over age 50, are now on the rise in young people. Stress is also a factor, although the direct relationship between stress and stroke risk is unknown. Dr. Oller-Cramsie says, "Stress reduction techniques, whether meditation, yoga, massage, or other methods, will lead to a healthier, happier lifestyle, ultimately reducing your risk of stroke."

Holy Name Medical Center is designated a Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission and has earned the highest award for stroke care – Gold Plus – from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Holy Name’s acute stroke team immediately evaluates a patient through a standard diagnostic protocol of tests. If appropriate, a clot-busting medication or mechanical intervention is administered to help prevent permanent disabilities that may be caused by a stroke.

The window for treating a stroke used to be three hours from the onset of symptoms. But Dr. Oller-Cramsie says with advancements in treatment therapies, Holy Name’s stroke specialists have been able to expand that window for patients with specific medical criteria.

No matter what your age, take some time to learn more about the signs and symptoms of a stroke. You never know when a loved one, co-worker, or even you will suffer a stroke. Knowledge is power, but when it comes to stroke education, knowledge is brain cells. Every second counts! To make an appointment with a Holy Name Medical Partners neurologist, visit HolyNameMedicalPartners.org.