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June 25, 2013 > The Most Important Piece of the Stroke Puzzle Is You

The Most Important Piece of the Stroke Puzzle Is You

Learning More About Stroke Can Help Prevent "Devastating" Disease

Ash Jain, M.D., medical director of the Stroke Program at Washington Hospital, sees the effects of stroke every day.

"The word I use most often when describing the impact of stroke is 'devastating,'" Dr. Jain says. "I cannot express enough to community members how important it is to learn about stroke, starting with its symptoms."

Unfortunately, for a disease that is the No. 1 cause of long-term disability - as well as among the top five killers - in the United States, stroke is often misunderstood and, as a result, identified too late for effective treatment.

Don't Delay - Learn About Stroke Now

Stroke's telltale signs - such as weakness on one side, difficulty speaking, and facial drooping - frequently seem ambiguous to those unfamiliar with them. As a result, stroke sufferers and their family members may second-guess the seriousness of the situation, leading to a delay in seeking emergency medical care.

"Stroke is a disease that, for most people, seems to happen without warning, and they might not readily recognize the symptoms," Dr. Jain points out. "What many may not realize is how critical a role they play in their stroke care. With all of the advancement in acute stroke management, we can't do anything until they seek help by calling 9-1-1."

"I cannot stress enough that timing is everything when it comes to treatment of stroke, and when community members can identify the signs of stroke, they are much more likely to take the appropriate action."

Next Tuesday, July 2, the Stroke Education Series at Washington Hospital begins again with Introduction - Stroke/Risk Factors for Stroke. This two-hour presentation by stroke experts gives community members an in-depth primer that will help them understand stroke, as well as highlight its common risk factors.

"The cycle of stroke management ideally begins by preventing stroke, but if a stroke does occur, we then work to minimize damage and prevent any further strokes through medical management and patient education," according to Dr. Jain. "Overall, we can improve results if we address the start of the cycle - at the point when the patient at risk not only learns how to prevent stroke, but also how to recognize the symptoms and seek help fast."

Ultimately, the sooner a patient arrives in the ER with a suspected stroke, the better the chances are for recovery, he says.

"The Stroke Program at Washington Hospital has a very efficient process for managing acute stroke, starting from the moment 9-1-1 is called, at which point the cascade of care in the hospital starts immediately," he says. "Getting to the ER if they suspect stroke can make the difference between minimal damage and long-term disability or death."

"I ask that all members of the community take the time to learn how to recognize stroke and prevent it, and this introduction to stroke seminar is an effective and cost-free means of learning the basics of stroke."

To Reduce Risk of Stroke, Start Here

"With all the disease entities and calamities that can befall a person, what is so important about stroke?" asks Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of the Stroke Program at Washington Hospital. "There are heart attacks, cancer, kidney disease, trauma - what makes stroke a big concern?"

Unlike other diseases, stroke can affect everything from speech to motor function, making it hard for stroke sufferers to perform everyday tasks. Furthermore, he points to a study that asked elderly patients who were at risk for stroke what their thoughts were about suffering a stroke.

"The study found that almost half of the respondents rated living with a stroke as 'worse than death'," he says.

The good news, according to Van Houten, is that when it comes to the factors that can increase the risk of stroke, many of them can be modified through lifestyle changes - like diet, exercise, and quitting smoking. And others - like atrial fibrillation - can be medically managed under a doctor's care.

With some education, many people can make strides to reduce or control many risk factors, starting now. But to begin to lower the risk of stroke, first people have to know what their particular risk factors are.

"Most of the risk factors for stroke are pretty much undetectable on the surface. I could have blood pressure of 200/100, which is really high, and I wouldn't feel any different than I do now," he says. "The same is true of high cholesterol and high blood sugar. If you don't go to the doctor regularly to get these things checked, then you won't even know there's a problem."

Van Houten says a good place to start is a trip to the doctor to identify these and other risk factors. And if it turns out that you do have high blood pressure, he says this is No. 1 place to start when reducing risk for stroke.

"According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, by lowering your systolic blood pressure by 20 points and lowering your diastolic blood pressure by 10 points, you can decrease your risk of stroke and ischemic heart disease by about 50 percent."

Fortunately, during the Stroke Education Series, Van Houten has plenty of practical tips for stroke prevention, so it's a good idea to attend the entire series, which is free.

Learn More

To get a comprehensive introduction to stroke and a better understanding of risk factors that impact the chances of suffering a stroke, attend the free community education seminar next Tuesday, July 2, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, (Washington West building) located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To register, visit or call (800) 963-7070.

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