The shocking death of Luke Perry this week saddened “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Riverdale” fans and left many asking how a stroke could claim the life of the 52-year-old actor. Experts are saying a stroke can happen at any age; older people aren’t the only ones who suffer strokes. Nearly one fourth of strokes occur in people under the age of 65. Doctors urge people who suspect they are experiencing a stroke to immediately seek help. Emergency treatments including drugs to bust clots and control bleeding can save lives and limit disabilities.
Women face unique stroke challenges. It’s important to know that commonly recognized stroke symptoms are not the only ones or even the most obvious signs that women experience. In addition to the risk factors for both women and men, there are unique risks that make stroke a large cause of death in women, according to a Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center neurology professor.
“We have no idea why the stroke symptoms might be different for women. We need research on this topic,” says Cheryl Bushnell, MD, tells Readers Digest. Researchers believe hormones can play a role.
Frequently ignored stroke symptoms in women include:
- Fainting or seizures
- Difficulty breathing
- Sudden behavioral changes or agitation
- Nausea or vomiting
Common Stroke Symptoms
Most strokes— 87 percent — that affect women and men, young and old, are considered ischemic stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An ischemic stroke happens when something blocks blood flow to the brain. Doctors use clot-busting drugs to treat ischemic strokes.
Remember the symptoms of an ischemic stroke with this BE FAST acronym.
- B: Poor balance
- E: Eye problems, such as loss of vision or double vision
- F: Face droop
- A: Arm weakness
- S: Speech slurred
- T: Time to call 911 and get to the hospital ASAP
The other 13 percent of strokes, considered hemorrhagic strokes, are seen more often in young people. “Younger people commonly have a stroke if they have a genetic or inherited clotting disorder, says Dr. Shraddha Mainali, a neurologist at The Ohio State University’s stroke center. People suffer loss of vision, vomiting and nausea with this type of stroke, and they often report the “worst headache of their lives.”
Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by bleeding in the brain when a blood vessel leaks blood or ruptures. Various treatments that can help with hemorrhagic strokes include drugs to control bleeding and reduce pressure.
Stroke Risk Factors
Doctors are seeing risk factors traditionally associated with older patients more frequently now in younger people, according to Dr. Kristy Yuan, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “All of it is becoming more prevalent,” she told the TODAY show.
These are common stroke risk factors:
- Previous stroke
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Drug use
Smoking or using illicit drugs leads to vessel inflammation, and people who develop clotting in the vessels are more prone to have strokes, says Dr. Shraddha Mainali, a neurologist at The Ohio State University’s stroke center.
The American Stroke Association says women have additional risk factors that include:
- Taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
- Early menopause or early menstruation
- Pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes
- Multiple miscarriages
- Low levels of a key hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)
- Migraines with aura
Other Illnesses Mimic Strokes
Sometimes, a patient may suffer another illness with symptoms that mimic those of a stroke. If you have these symptoms, you may have one of these other medical problems and not a stroke. Don’t try to diagnose yourself. Seek medical attention right away and let a doctor make the call.
- Autoimmune disease
- Mental health problems
- Irregular heartbeat
- Face Weakness or Face Pain such as Bell’s Palsy
- Nerve Tingling caused by neuropathy.
- Weird Symptoms such as deja vu and ringing in your ears
- Migraine Headaches, which are suffered disproportionately by women
The key takeaway about experiencing neurological symptoms, such as head pain, weakness, numbness, confusion, dizziness or trouble communicating is this: It is important to seek medical attention immediately.