Just 52, Luke Perry died following a stroke – this is how that happens to someone his age

Some of the common causes of fatal stroke

Actor Luke Perry (pictured here in 2015), who rose to stardom on the 1990s US television drama Beverly Hills 90210, died on Monday at the age of 52. He had been in hospital after suffering a ‘massive’ stroke last week, his publicist Arnold Robinson said. Photograph: Frederick M Brown/Getty Images

Luke Perry’s death, following a massive stroke, is both a tragedy and a bit of a mystery. The actor was just 52 years old, and the vast majority of strokes occur in much older people.

Perry’s family has not offered details about the medical findings, but deaths from stroke in younger age groups are rare – though recent research found one in four Irish people who suffer strokes are under the age of 65. And the 2016 Irish Heart Foundation/HSE National Stroke Audit showed a 26 per cent increase in the rate of younger stroke since the previous audit in 2008.

Strokes affect between 8,000 and 10,000 Irish people every year and most are caused by a blockage in the blood vessel, usually a blood clot.

While stroke in younger patients can be as devastating as in older ones, risk factors vary significantly between the two groups.


Here are some of the most common causes of fatal stroke in a man of Perry's age, according to Dr Lee H Schwamm, director of the comprehensive stroke centre at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr Lawrence R Wechsler, chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Arterial dissection

The lining of an artery tears and separates from the vessel wall. A blood clot forms at the site of the tear and travels to the brain, eventually blocking the flow of blood to brain tissue. This can happen after a sudden movement of the neck, including neck manipulation by a chiropractor or when playing sports. In some cases, Wechsler said, it has happened to people riding roller coasters. No one knows why some people are vulnerable. It seems to have genetic links less than 1 percent of the time, according to Schwamm.

A patent foramen ovale, or ‘a hole in the heart’

When a baby takes its first breath, a passageway between the left side and right side of the heart is supposed to close. In about 25 per cent of people, it remains open. In some of these people, the hole can raise the odds of stroke. Small blood clots normally get swept into the lungs, where they are cleared. People with a PFO may have a blood clot that instead crosses the heart and is swept to the brain. A blood clot the size of a pencil tip can kill, Schwamm said. But unless a PFO causes a nonfatal stroke, doctors do not close it; it doesn’t cause problems, and most people never even know they have it.

Blood clots

Some people, usually because they have a genetic mutation, are prone to developing blood clots that can travel to the brain.

A heart defect or rhythm disturbance

A structural heart defect can be caused by various things, such as damage from a previous massive heart attack. As a result, clots can form inside the heart and be ejected into the bloodstream and enter the brain. Clots also can form because a person has a heart rhythm disturbance such as atrial fibrillation.

Artery narrowing

Some drugs can make arteries suddenly close, cutting off blood to the brain. In younger patients, this narrowing often is caused by the use of stimulants or drugs that interfere with the neurotransmitter serotonin.

An aneurysm or an arteriovenous malformation

An aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in a blood vessel. An arteriovenous malformation is a tangle of blood vessels containing arteries and veins. When either is present, a vessel in the brain can suddenly burst, flooding the tissue with blood and causing a stroke. Sometimes these problematic blood vessels cause symptoms such as minor seizures, Wechsler said. In those situations, neurologists may intervene and try to remove them. But many people never know they have an underlying problem until they suffer a brain haemorrhage. – New York Times