Luke Perry's stroke: what you need to know

The Hollywood heartthrob died on March 4 after a massive stroke at age 52.

by Glynis Horning

The popular actor's death has raised alarm bells for his generation – and questions. Use them to stay healthier.

At 52, Luke Perry seemed still as fit and trim as he was successful, following his early stardom in Beverly Hills 90210 with stints in the likes of Law & Order, Will & Grace and most recently Riverdale. He was too young, surely for a stroke? And far too young to die!

How could this happen?

A stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to your brain, starving your brain cells of oxygen, damaging and quickly killing them. There are two types. Ischaemic stroke (80% of cases) results from a blockage caused by a thrombosis (a clot in a blood vessel of your brain or neck), an embolism (a clot carried through the blood, usually from your heart), or stenosis (extreme narrowing of an artery in or approaching the brain, caused by a build-up of fatty material). Haemorrhagic stroke, on the other hand, results from bleeding in the brain, caused by blood vessels in your skull rupturing because of weakness in their walls.

Strokes afflict 240 people a day in South Africa and can strike at any age, says Professor Pam Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSFSA). In fact, stroke is among the top 10 causes of death in children. Some 30% of sufferers are under age 65, but stroke is most common after 55, when your risk doubles for each successive decade. 

So Perry having a stroke at 54 was not that unusual. Nor was his being in apparently good shape. Risk factors for stroke are not always obvious. They include gender (more men have strokes than women, though more women die of them); heredity (a genetic mutation can make you prone to developing blood clots); or a structural heart defect or rhythm disturbance. 
We can’t change these risk factors, but there are many others which we can – and it could save your (or a loved-one’s) life.


  1. Certain health conditions can make you more susceptible to stroke, take steps to address and manage them: hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, heart disease and HIV/Aids. 
  2. Watch your diet: Trans and saturated (animal) fats, refined carbohydrates such as sugar, and salt (which can raise your blood pressure) put you at greater risk of stroke.
  3. Exercise regularly and moderately, to keep your cardiovascular system healthy and control your weight.
  4. Counter stress, which is linked to raised risk for stroke and for stroke-promoting bad habits (see 5). Schedule time daily to unwind and be sure to get enough sleep. (Less than six hours a night raises the risk of stroke, increasing your blood pressure and encouraging inflammation.) 
  5. Control bad habits: You know what they are – smoking (it can more than double your risk of stroke), using recreational drugs, drinking and overeating. 
  6. Avoid sudden neck movements: They can tear the lining of an artery (arterial dissection) and trigger a stroke. Take care playing sport, and keep in mind that even roller-coasters and water park slides have been linked to strokes in young people, note reports in the British Medical Journal .
  7. Memorise the FAST test to spot a stroke, and teach it to your kids: Face: ask the person to smile, does it droop on one side? Arms: Ask them to raise both, is one side weaker? Speech: Ask them their name, can they say it clearly? Time: Get emergency help – call an ambulance (112 from a cellphone, 10177 from a landline). Clot-busting drugs administered in the first three hours can limit the severity of a stroke, says Prof Naidoo.

For more information on stroke contact the HSFSA at 


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images