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The recent high-profile death of actor Luke Perry from stroke at age 52 left many people shocked and wondering, wasn’t he too young for a stroke?

Although stroke is often thought of as occurring in the elderly, the National Stroke Association reports that about 15 percent of ischemic strokes — the most common type — occur in adults under the age of 65, and that the number of young adults admitted to the hospital because of a stroke has increased 44 percent in the last 10 years. We’ve started seeing people in their 20s and 30s who have had a stroke, which is unusual. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms, because we don’t usually expect to see stroke in younger adults.

A stroke occurs when blood cannot reach a portion of the brain. It can be caused by a clot in the brain, called ischemic stroke, or by bleeding in the brain, called hemorrhagic stroke.

Causes of stroke in younger adults range from rare syndromes to blood disorders, genetic conditions or infections. These conditions may be undiagnosed before a stroke, like in the case of a congenital heart defect or arrhythmia. In such cases, the heart can be more susceptible to creating clots that travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Younger adults may also have a condition that is well-managed but with the risk of stroke as an extremely rare side effect, like in the case of migraines.

Known risk factors include high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and obesity, and lifestyle changes can lower your risk of a stroke by about 80 percent. Genetics is a risk factor that you can’t control.

Know the signs

Knowing the signs and symptoms, and calling 911 immediately can help ensure you or a loved one has the best possible outcome in case of a stroke.

It’s very important to seek care as soon as possible and call 911 for an ambulance. The ambulance alerts the hospital so the stroke team can get ready to deliver care much faster than if a family member brings you to the emergency department.

Use the acronym BeFast to remember the symptoms of stroke. These symptoms will occur suddenly:

• Balance issues or dizziness

• Eyes, vision changes

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• Facial droop

• Arm not working properly (unable to hold a pencil or fork, drink from a cup or lift arm)

• Slurred speech

• Time; note the time symptoms start, seek help and call 911 immediately. Clot-dissolving medication only works if given within three to four hours of when symptoms begin.

Lower your risk

Healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk of stroke, no matter what your age.

• Eat a healthy diet. Try a Mediterranean-style diet like the DASH diet.

• Maintain a healthy weight.

• Be physically active.

• Don’t smoke.

• Limit alcohol.

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Sarah Vincent is stroke care coordinator at Samaritan Stroke Services. The Samaritan Stroke Services team includes emergency room doctors, neurologists, nurses, speech language specialists and others who work to stop and reverse the damaging effects of a stroke. Learn more about Samaritan Stroke Services at samhealth.org/Stroke.

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