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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Actor Luke Perry’s death on Monday has a lot of people asking questions about the risk of a fatal stroke in someone so young – Perry was 52 years old.

A stroke is a life threatening emergency.

“The natural outcome without any therapy is always going to be poor,” says Allegheny Health Network neurologist Dr. Russell Cerejo.

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Brain cells die when part of the brain goes without blood flow.

Strokes happen for a number of reasons, including blockages in brain arteries, clots that travel to the brain from the neck vessels or the heart, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, or high blood pressure, leading to hemorrhages.

But 15 percent of strokes occur in people younger than 50.

In these cases, additional reasons should be considered, including blood that’s too thick, structural heart defects, ruptured blood vessels, genetic disorders predisposing to stroke, or drugs.

Massive strokes can happen when a large artery supplying a large portion of brain becomes blocked.

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“Approximately 10 percent of all strokes are these massive, disabling strokes,” says Dr. Cerejo.

Death can occur quickly if there is a lot of associated swelling or bleeding.

“It’s so important to let the paramedics decide which facility the patients need to go to,” Dr. Cerejo adds.

If you get to a hospital with the right capabilities within 24 hours, blood flow can be restored with clot busting medicine, and a catheter to retrieve the clot.

“We’ve had multiple patients where if we’ve been able to help them within that time window, we’ve actually been able to discharge them home,” he says.

Finding the reason for the stroke is important, because you want to prevent another one…with medication and lifestyle.

“If you have high blood pressure, treating the high blood pressure, if you have diabetes, optimal treatment of the diabetes,” Dr. Cerejo urges.

An important first step is recognizing the signs and symptoms of stroke. These can vary, because it depends which part of the brain is affected. You can have sudden numbness or weakness on one side, trouble finding words or understanding, double vision or loss of vision, or dizziness or loss of balance.