The unexpected death of "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Riverdale" actor Luke Perry of a massive stroke this week at age 52, is a reminder that every year 795,000 Americans suffer from a stroke and 130,000 of them die.

Dr. Roger Cheng, assistant professor of neurology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, says stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and one of the leading causes of permanent disability.

Most of the treatments for stroke are time sensitive, said Cheng, so prevention and early treatment are what's necessary.

Cheng said the best way to identify symptoms of a stroke is by using the acronym, BE FAST.

  • B stands for sudden loss of balance.
  • E stands for eyes so if somebody suddenly has double vision or blindness in one eye, that can be a symptom.
  • F stands for face, particularly a facial droop when someone smiles or asymmetry in the face, meaning one side is not even with the other.
  • A stands for arm, meaning single-sided weakness in either an arm or a leg.
  • S stands for speech. All of a sudden if someone's speech is slurred or not making sense, that could be a sign of a stroke.
  • T stands for time. Cheng says treatment for stroke is time-sensitive. There are treatments for different kinds of strokes that can reverse or even stop a stroke within the first three hours of having a stroke. But as time gets longer, the possibility of permanent injury increases.

There are two types of stroke. One is an ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot in a blood vessel. The second is a hemorrhagic stroke, which is caused by bleeding in the brain.

There is medication for an ischemic stroke that can break up the blood clot or there are procedures where doctors can enter blood vessel and remove the clot. With hemorrhagic strokes, Cheng said time is of the essence. Procedures need to be done to slow or stop the causes of bleeding before it gets so serious that nothing can be done.

Sometimes, strokes happen all of a sudden, with no warning. While stroke primarily occurs in older people, Cheng said 35 percent of people under age 60 have strokes. Younger people tend to have more serious strokes, and not as often recognized.

There are ways, however, to lower one's risk of having a stroke. The No. 1 way is to control one's blood pressure. Don't smoke, exercise and maintain a good, healthy diet all help, he added.

Cheng said doctors are getting better at finding some of the causes of stroke and understanding the baseline risk factors. Being able to detect them better and put people on the proper treatment to prevent stroke has improved.

Often, symptoms occur that may not be completely disabling, but the worst thing a person can do is sit on them and wait to get help, thinking the symptoms might go away, said Cheng.

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