John Singleton: What Causes a Stroke?

John Singleton’s death from a stroke at the age of 51 shocked and saddened fans and celebrities. The director, who was known for directing Boyz n the Hood and 2 Fast 2 Furious still had plans for other projects.

Singleton’s passing might have you wondering about strokes. What causes a stroke? What are some of the warning signs? The Cheat Sheet chatted with Jason Tarpley, M.D., Ph.D., stroke neurologist and director of the Stroke and Neurovascular Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Here’s what Dr. Tarpley told us about stroke causes.

John Singleton| Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
John Singleton| Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

The Cheat Sheet: What causes a stroke?

Dr. Jason Tarpley: Ischemic stroke, or blockage of a brain artery, has many different causes depending on the patient population. Ischemic stroke is more common in older age, and older patients’ strokes are often caused by an underlying heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, cholesterol plaque in the carotid arteries, or disease in the brain’s small arteries. Risk factors for small artery strokes are high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking. Stroke in the young, on the other hand, has different causes. The most common cause of stroke in the young is an arterial dissection resulting from a tear in the inner layer of the arteries feeding the brain.

The American stroke association has a useful acronym for identifying signs and symptoms of a stroke.  Any of these symptoms should prompt emergent evaluation for possible stroke as we have powerful brain-saving treatments for patients with stroke. The acronym is BE FAST:

B for balance problems

E for eye problem such as sudden vision loss

F for facial drooping on one side

A for arm weakness

S for speech difficulty

T time is brain or time to call 911

John Singleton|Christopher Polk/Getty Images
John Singleton|Christopher Polk/Getty Images

CS: Is it possible to prevent a stroke?

JT:  Stroke Prevention is absolutely possible with today’s modern therapy combined with lifestyle changes. The Mediterranean diet for example confers a 20% reduction in the risk of stroke. Exercise has also been shown in many studies to reduce the risk of stroke and I typically recommend that my patients adopt a regimen that they can stick with rather than an overly ambitious one that they cannot likely adhere to. We have also achieved great reduction of stroke risk by treating patient’s hypertension, controlling diabetes, treating atrial fibrillation with medication as well as procedures for carotid artery stenosis.

John Singleton|Rich Fury/Getty Images
John Singleton|Rich Fury/Getty Images

CS: Could lack of sleep cause a stroke?

JT: There is a link between lack of sleep and stroke. Probably the most notable is the link between obstructive sleep apnea and stroke. For this reason, patients with daytime tiredness and/or snoring should be evaluated with a sleep study.

Read more: John Singleton: How Can You Manage Grief After the Death of a Loved One?

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