Director John Singleton died recently from a stroke. The acclaimed filmmaker was only 51 years old.

Singleton's 1991 debut film, "Boyz n the Hood," earned him an Oscar nomination for best director, making him the youngest nominee and the first African American writer-director to be nominated.

In March, actor Luke Perry died after having a "massive stroke," according to a statement from his representative. He was only 52.

Strokes are the fifth cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the U.S., according to the American Stroke Association. Yet Singleton and Perry's deaths still surprised people. Although the majority of strokes occur in people over 65, they can happen at any age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55. However, up to 10% of strokes may occur in people younger than 45, reports John Hopkins Medicine.

How strokes happen

CT imaging of the brain during a stroke During a stroke, part of the brain loses access to blood, oxygen and nutrients. (Photo: Puwadol Jaturawutthichai/Shutterstock)

Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is either blocked by a blood clot or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. When that happens, a portion of the brain can't get the blood, oxygen and nutrients it needs, so it becomes damaged and dies.

Ischemic strokes are the most common type, accounting for up to 87% of all strokes, according to the American Stroke Association. They occur when part of the brain is deprived of blood due to a blood clot or blockage of the artery by plaque. Hemorrhagic strokes are caused when a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are "mini-strokes" caused by a serious, temporary clot. These are considered warning strokes and should be taken seriously.

Stroke symptoms

Time is of the essence when it comes to recognizing the signs of a stroke and getting emergency care. The American Stroke Association uses the acronym F.A.S.T. If you see Face drooping, Arm weakness or Speech slurring, it's Time to call 911. Other stroke symptoms can include sudden numbness, confusion, vision problems, trouble walking or severe headache.

Stroke risk factors

There are some risk factors out of our control, such as age, gender, race and medical history. Women have a greater risk than men, and African Americans have a higher risk than Caucasians, due in part to higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. A family history of stroke or a prior stroke, TIA or heart attack also increases your chances of having a stroke.

But there are things you can do to minimize your chances of having a stroke. These risk factors affect your chances of having a stroke:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and calories
  • Physical inactivity
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity

So, having a healthy diet and staying active can really make an impact on your stroke risk, no matter your age.

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

Strokes can happen at any age
Strokes are the No. 5 cause of death in the U.S., and they can happen at any age. Deaths of John Singleton, Luke Perry serve as painful reminders.