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Stroke: Just as Serious as a Heart Attack

February 24, 2010

Seminar Talks About What Stroke Is and Who’s at Risk

When it comes to health scares, heart attacks are a big one. And, as a result, most of us have at least a basic understanding of them.

"Most people know that a heart attack is serious and can kill you," says Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program. "But it’s actually very surprising how many people know a lot about heart attack symptoms, like chest pain and pain down your arm. A lot of people even know that they need to take an aspirin in the event of a heart attack."

Stroke, the third leading killer in the United States, generally isn’t as well understood by the public, Van Houten says. That’s why Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program is working to improve understanding about a condition that results in more long-term disability than any other.

On Tuesday, March 2, from 6 to 8 p.m., Van Houten and a physician from the Stroke Program will present a free community seminar explaining what stroke is and what the risk factors are. The seminar will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium inside the Washington West building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

"Our goal is to reach the same level of awareness in the community of stroke as there is for heart attack," Van Houten says. "I want people to understand that this condition impacts the brain and is caused by risk factors, many of them preventable, as well as what the signs and symptoms are and how to detect stroke."

Unlike a heart attack, a stroke often causes no pain, which may lead to many people not fully realizing the seriousness of the situation – until it’s too late for effective treatment, Van Houten points out.

Just like with a heart attack, in the event of a stroke, it’s vital that emergency medical treatment be sought immediately. The sooner emergency medical treatment is sought, the better the chances are that damage can potentially be reversed. Likewise, the longer a stroke goes untreated, the worse the outcome is.

Often the biggest challenge, according to Van Houten, is getting people to understand the symptoms and how important it is to get to the hospital.

"According to one study, 66 percent of the time, the victim of a stroke does not initiate the emergency response – it’s somebody else that does it," he says. "Another study found the median delay from symptom onset to emergency room admission is 16 hours, which is completely past the treatment window. People have to know how to detect stroke by knowing the signs and symptoms and what to do, which is call 9-1-1 immediately."

During the upcoming seminar, participants will learn exactly what a stroke is, how medical professionals define and detect it, risk factors and emergency treatment. Van Houten also will talk about the Cincinnati Prehospital Stroke Scale, which 80 percent of the time will correctly identify stroke.

Risk factors that will be addressed during the talk include ones that cannot be changed, such as:

  • Age
  • Heredity (family history) and race
  • Sex (gender)
  • Prior stroke, TIA or heart attack

Other important stroke risk factors that can be changed through things like lifestyle modifications, medications and diet include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Carotid or other artery disease
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Sickle cell disease (also called sickle cell anemia)
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity and obesity

"The more I think about it, if you could just do one thing to reduce your stroke risk, I would say getting down to an adequate weight is it," Van Houten remarks. "From 1980 on, there’s been this dramatic increase in obesity. Today, the population is about one-third under- to normal-weight, one-third is overweight, and one-third is clinically obese."

"The number of strokes might be going up with obesity, which is connected with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, lack of activity and poor eating habits. If you fix that one thing, you’re probably fixing all these others."

To learn more about stroke and its risk factors, join Van Houten and a member of Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program medical staff on Tuesday, March 2, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium inside the Washington West building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To register, visit www.whhs.com and click on "Register Online For Upcoming Seminars" at the bottom of the home page.

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