By Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Filmmaker John Singleton, 51, died Monday after having what court filings described as a “major stroke” on April 17, according to a statement from his family.
Singleton, the first black filmmaker nominated for the best director Oscar, was best known for films like “Boyz n the Hood” and “Poetic Justice.”
In March, 52-year-old actor Luke Perry had a “massive stroke” that ultimately led to his death.
Strokes are the fifth cause of death for adults in the United States and the leading cause of disability, according to the American Stroke Association. Yet Singleton and Perry’s deaths have stunned Hollywood and the public, serving as a reminder that strokes can occur even at a relatively young age.
Strokes can happen in young age
“Although stroke often affects older individuals, it is not only a disease of the elderly,” said Mitchell S.V. Elkind, chairman of the American Stroke Association Advisory Committee. “There is evidence that stroke rates among young people are increasing in the United States, and this requires additional research.”
A 2017 study showed that between 2003 and 2012, the rates of hospitalizations after ischemic strokes for adults 35 to 44 increased by 41.5% for men and 30% for women. The researchers also found a near-doubling of the risk factors among men and women who were later hospitalized with ischemic strokes.
Ischemic strokes occur when either a blood clot or a plaque obstructs a vessel carrying blood to the brain, preventing the delivery of oxygen. Strokes can also be hemorrhagic, when a blood vessel has ruptured and the blood that spills into or around the brain creates swelling and pressure, damaging the brain tissue.
Ischemic strokes account for an approximate 87% of all strokes, according to the American Stroke Association, which emphasizes the importance of understanding risk factors.
The risk factors
Risk factors fall into two categories: modifiable, or those that can be treated and improved; and non-modifiable, or those that are outside a patient’s control.
Among modifiable risk factors, high blood pressure poses the biggest threat for stroke, according to the American Stroke Association. Other modifiable factors are smoking, diabetes, a diet high in saturated fats, high cholesterol, physical inactivity and obesity.
The non-modifiable risk factors include age, gender and race. Women are known to be at greater risk than men, and African Americans are known to be at greater risk than Caucasians, in part because of higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
The early signs
The association also notes the importance of early recognition. Spotting the early signs of a stroke and getting help quickly can reduce long-term effects.
To identify these early signs, the organization recommends using the F.A.S.T. acronym: If you see Face drooping, Arm weakness or Speech difficulty, it’s Time to call 911.
Other symptoms include sudden numbness in the legs, sudden confusion or trouble seeing, sudden dizziness or loss of balance, or a sudden severe headache.