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Donít Let Stroke Take You Down

July 28, 2010

Washington Hospital Class Offers Tips To Avoid Stroke

Stroke is the leading cause of disability in this country, and the third leading cause of death, according to the National Stroke Association. The statistics are grim, yet there are ways you can increase your chances of avoiding stroke or the many serious complications if you do have one.

"Eighty percent of strokes are preventable," said Doug Van Houten, R.N., coordinator of the Stroke Program at Washington Hospital. "If you have had a stroke, it’s critical to keep yourself out of the danger zone by fully embracing the rehabilitation process so you can maintain function and reduce your risk for serious health problems."

Van Houten will talk about the rehabilitation process at an upcoming Washington Hospital class. Dr. Ash Jain, Stroke Program medical director, will discuss some of the promising treatments now available if stroke is caught soon enough.

"Acute Management of Stroke: Chronic Care and Stroke Rehab" is scheduled for Tuesday, August 3, from 6 to 8 p.m. The class, part of Washington Hospital’s Community Stroke Education Series, will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditoriums at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To register online, please visit www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070.

"The acute management of stroke is changing very quickly," Jain said. "It’s getting very exciting. At Washington Hospital, we can effectively treat people up to eight hours after stroke. Just a few years ago, that window was much smaller."

Stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked by a clot. The starved brain cells begin to die, which can lead to paralysis and other neurological problems as well as death.

When a stroke patient arrives at the hospital, the goal is to restore the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain as quickly as possible to stop the loss of brain cells, according to Jain. He will talk about some of the recent advancements making that more possible.

Early Intervention is Key

A standard treatment that is effective when used right away is a clot-busting drug known as tPA, Jain says. It dissolves blood clots and has been in use for about 25 years.

"New advances are now making it possible to actually remove the clot or put a stent in the artery," Jain said. "We just started doing it at Washington Hospital and we are seeing excellent results. While the window for effective treatment is increasing, it’s still very small, so it’s imperative that you seek medical attention for a stroke immediately."

Van Houten agreed, "If you are experiencing the symptoms of stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. Symptoms come on suddenly and include numbness, confusion, trouble seeing, dizziness or loss of balance, and severe headache."

He will talk about the role of rehabilitation in preventing serious complications of stroke, which include another stroke as well as aspiration, falls, infections, and depression. He calls these areas in the danger zone.

"Rehabilitation can help you get some mobility back, restore function, and reduce the risk of getting into the danger zone," Van Houten said. "For example, speech therapists can help stroke patients learn how to improve their ability to swallow, reducing the risk of aspiration or choking. Aspiration is the leading cause of death after a stroke."

Working with physical therapists can help to restore function and mobility, which helps to reduce the chances for a life-threatening fall after a stroke, he added. It also increases independence.

"The more mobile and independent you are after a stroke the better quality of life you will have," Van Houten said. "It’s also important to change some lifestyle factors that may have sent you down this road in the first place."

These in include eating a diet low in sodium and fat; exercising; maintaining a healthy weight; keeping diabetes, blood pressure and blood cholesterol under control; quitting smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption.

For information about Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program, visit www.whhs.com/stroke.