Lowering Your Stroke Risk Means Knowing Your Stroke Risk
Free Stroke Seminar Addresses Risk Factors and Steps for Prevention
As it turns out, small decisions made over the course of time can add up to a lot. This is especially true when it comes to your risk for a stroke, which can cause irreparable damage to the brain.
There are a number of risk factors for stroke, and a majority of them are preventable – one small decision at a time. To help community members reduce their risk for stroke, Dr. Ash Jain, M.D., Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program medical director, and Doug Van Houten, R.N., the program’s clinical coordinator, will present a free seminar next Tuesday, Sept. 7, focusing on stroke risk factors and prevention.
Dr. Jain will begin the presentation by giving audience members a broad view of the risk factors that increase a person’s potential for stroke – a disease process that represents the No. 1 cause of long-term disability and the No. 3 cause of death in the United States.
Are you at risk?
As Dr. Jain explains it, all the dots connect when it comes to many of the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) leading causes of death.
"Conditions such as hypertension and diabetes increase the risk of stroke because they contribute to atherosclerosis, which causes blockages in the arteries," Dr. Jain says. "These blockages and the plaque on the arterial wall can break off and travel upstream to cause an embolic event."
When this occurs, the resulting clot cuts off vital blood supply, quickly killing off brain tissue, which can kill or leave a victim permanently disabled.
Dr. Jain’s advice is to get a head start on stroke prevention by discussing medical and family history with your primary care physician, who can help determine high-risk areas, such as hypertension and diabetes.
Many risk factors, if caught early enough, can be addressed through lifestyle changes; others are simply a matter of genetics and require medical treatment. In either case, it’s important, according to Dr. Jain, to be able to ask the right questions when you visit your physician.
"If you have irregular heartbeat or atherosclerosis, these conditions need to be treated," Dr. Jain points out. "There are simple tests for risk factors that we do in the Stroke Program, which are not usually done by most physicians, called Homocysteine CRP-HS, because these are quite strong indicators for stroke."
The toughest part about stroke prevention, he says, is that most of the risk factors are "silent," which means they often develop over time without raising any red flags – like pain – to indicate there is a problem.
But that’s not always the case. Sometimes stroke does offer warning, and Dr. Jain says it’s important to pay attention, even if symptoms seem to disappear.
"Stroke often does happen with no advance warning, but at the same time, in many cases there are warning signs for stroke that are ignored or not found out," he says. "Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), numbness and tingling – these are indicators of impending stroke."
If you’re 50 or older and have several risk factors for stroke – or if you have ever been diagnosed with irregular heartbeat, Dr. Jain strongly recommends attending this talk to find out how you can reduce your potential for stroke.
How to make change happen
The single greatest tool in lowering stroke risk, according to Doug Van Houten, R.N., is lifestyle change.
He says that undoubtedly many people would jump at the chance to purchase a pill that would magically improve health and reduce the chances of dying from some of the top killers like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.
Unfortunately, he says, that magic pill hasn’t been developed yet. The good news? Some simple lifestyle changes can do the same thing, with the added benefit of making you look and feel better.
But permanent lifestyle change isn’t effortless. It takes a little math, Van Houten says. His equation is: Knowledge + Motivation + Creativity = Change.
"You’re not going to change something unless you know there’s a problem," he explains. "For instance, you’re not going to care about high blood pressure unless you know it’s important. At that point, if you know blood pressure is the No. 1 risk factor for stroke and stroke is the No. 1 cause of permanent disability, there’s your motivation. During this talk, I’m going to help people with pointers for the creativity to make change happen."
"I want to challenge people to come to the talk and come with an open mind and agree to be introspective and be open to change in terms of lifestyle modification. Think of it like this: a great way of avoiding early death and disability is by maintaining good health."
The next step after finding out where to start is to form a concrete plan that you can self-monitor, Van Houten says. For instance, if your blood pressure is high, find out if your body mass index (BMI) is in a healthy range – or if you need to adjust your diet and exercise to reach a new weight goal, which can help lower blood pressure.
To help audience members get off on the right foot, Van Houten will offer concrete tips that can help make the difference.
Free stroke prevention tips
To learn more about how you can prevent stroke, join Dr. Jain and Van Houten on Tuesday, Sept. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson M.D. Auditorium in the Washington West building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.
To register for this seminar, visit www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070.