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July 31, 2007 > Prevention: Stroke's Greatest Enemy, Your Most Powerful Weapon

Prevention: Stroke's Greatest Enemy, Your Most Powerful Weapon

It can be difficult or even uncomfortable to confront health risks head on, but doing so, especially in the case of stroke, can make the difference between an active life and permanent disability - even life and death.
A stroke, also known as a brain attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), occurs either when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts causing damage to a part of the brain.
The third leading cause of death in the United States, stroke can cause significant disability including paralysis as well as speech and emotional problems, the CDC states.
To address stroke and the effect it has not only on sufferers but family and community as well, Washington Hospital has initiated a Stroke Education Series focusing on teaching community members about stroke, including prevention, treatment, symptoms and other vital information about the disease.
On Tuesday, August 7, Washington Hospital's Stroke Program Medical Director Dr. Ash Jain and the program's coordinator Doug Van Houten, R.N., will address stroke prevention and other disease processes and the role of healthy lifestyle in prevention.
"Receiving care as quickly as possible is critical," Van Houten says. "Knowing the symptoms of stroke, calling 911 right away, and getting to a hospital are crucial to achieving the most beneficial outcomes after having a stroke, but the best treatment is to try to prevent a stroke by taking steps to lower your risk for stroke."
"This is why a major focus of every segment of the education series is on prevention," Van Houten says.
Van Houten's portion of the talk, "Healthy Lifestyle - Be Smart and Avoid Stroke," keys in on the role of lifestyle choices in stroke risk. A major piece of the puzzle, he explains, involves diet and exercise, especially when it comes to other disease processes that can influence or contribute to stroke risk, such as diabetes or hypertension.
"We're talking about trying to maximize people's lifestyles to prevent - or at least live healthier - when faced with conditions like diabetes, which is a risk factor for stroke," he says. "About two-thirds of America is either overweight or obese. I'm going to talk about how exercise and avoiding salt in the diet, and other factors affect hypertension and other diseases related to stroke."
Dr. Jain will discuss in detail the medical conditions that affect stroke risk including cardiac conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and hypertension.
Van Houten will discuss how patients can make preventive lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce their risk for stroke, which is a major cause of permanent disability in the United States.
In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases remain the No. 1 killer of Americans. Heart disease is the leading cause of premature, permanent disability among American workers, and since many of these diseases are closely linked to one another, preventing one or keeping it under control can greatly improve overall health, says Van Houten.
"If you exercise regularly, avoid drinking soft drinks, and you keep your weight down, you'll avoid or put off diabetes, a major contributor to stroke," he points out. "One in eight hospital admissions is related to complications of diabetes. There's just been an explosion in diabetes all over the world. It really goes after your blood vessels and makes them brittle and friable. It also causes atherosclerosis."
Prevention means better outcomes
For those who have already suffered one or more strokes, the emphasis on prevention is even greater, because as Van Houten notes, a major risk factor for stroke is having already had one or more strokes in the past.
"A big part of what we do is called secondary prevention," he says. "Where primary prevention of stroke may involve a patient taking cholesterol drugs or aspirin to avoid a first stroke, secondary prevention occurs once you've had a stroke. But now, before we discharge you we make sure you're on a cholesterol-lowering drug, your blood pressure is under control, you have a plan for rehab, you're not going to smoke and you're only going to drink alcohol in moderation."
Van Houten adds, "About a third of all strokes are second, third and fourth strokes. There are about 700,000 strokes each year in the U.S. You already have the disease process in place if you've already had a stroke and it should be a red flag."
The Stroke Education Series is offered quarterly. If you missed a segment or want to find out what the next topic will be, pick up a free copy of the Health & Wellness Catalog on the Washington Hospital campus or call the Health Connection line at (800) 963-7070 to have one sent to your home.
Last month's segment covered acute management of stroke, focusing on treatment that takes place immediately after someone has been brought to the hospital for stroke, including clot-dissolving drugs and advanced interventional approaches performed in the hospital's Cath Lab, as well as the process of chronic care and rehabilitation following acute treatment in the hospital.
Coming up in September, Dr. Jain and Van Houten will talk to audience members about "Life After Stroke" and "Future in Diagnosis and Management."
"If they attend each part of the four-month series, eight hours total, the audience really should have a good feel for stroke from beginning to end," Van Houten says.
Understanding stroke prevention
Washington Hospital's Stroke Education Series is held the first Tuesday of the month from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located in the Washington West building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.
Call the hospital's toll-free Health Connection line at (800) 963-7070 to register for the presentation on stroke prevention and healthy lifestyle on Aug. 7. To learn more about the Stroke Program, visit www.whhs.com, click on "Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute" and select "Stroke Program" from the drop down menu.

Be There, Be Healthy

WHAT: Stroke Education Series
TOPIC: Stroke Prevention and Other Disease Processes & Healthy Lifestyle - Be Smart and Avoid Stroke
WHERE: Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Washington West, 2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont
WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 7

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