Could you be at risk of suffering a stroke?

Following the death of actor Luke Perry, it’s important to know the signs and risk factors for stroke.

The sudden death of actor Luke Perry this week from a reported massive stroke has left many people perhaps wondering if this could happen to them.

Perry, star of TV’s “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Riverdale,” was just 52 years old.

Stroke can strike anyone at any time, according to Dr. Jaison Grimes, who practices at the IU Health Neuroscience Center and IU Health Methodist Hospital, among others.

It’s a scary thought, he acknowledges. While he’s not privy to any underlying conditions that could have played a role in Perry’s death, he said the most common risk factors for stroke include obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. The two major types of stroke are ischemic, caused by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic, caused by a ruptured blood vessel. Ischemic strokes account for 80 percent of all strokes.

Symptoms of stroke include trouble walking, speaking and understanding, as well as paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg.

But there are no obvious early warning signs, Dr. Grimes said. If you wake up one morning and your arm is numb, that might just be the result of having slept on it wrong. But if that numbness hasn’t worn off within 15 minutes, you could have a problem, he said.

That’s when the acronym FAST comes into play: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time to call 911.

Look in the mirror – is your face drooping? Raise your arms – does one move slower or drift down? Is your speech slurred? If you can answer yes to any or all of these signs, call for help.

“We know outcomes are better for treating stroke when folks make it to the hospital within three hours,” Dr. Grimes said.

Treatment is a clot-busting medication called tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) delivered intravenously.

“If that doesn’t take care of it, we’re able to go in and retrieve clots with neuro-interventional radiology,” he said, “improving outcomes even more.”

Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, but it can happen at any age. Dr. Grimes said he’s seen pediatric stroke patients, as well as some in their late teens and 20s.

“Unfortunately, here at IU Health we see young folks come in with stroke all the time.”

Strokes need not be fatal. The earlier that treatment begins, the better the outcome, though there may be some lingering disabilities that can be addressed through physical, occupational and speech therapy.

The bottom line, Dr. Grimes said, is to lower your risk of stroke through diet and lifestyle changes, and pay attention to your body. “Don’t ignore symptoms.”

-– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist
   Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0]