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Recognize the Symptoms of Stroke and Save a Life

June 28, 2011

Washington Hospital Stroke Education Series Offers Invaluable Information

We often hear stories of second chances. These stories are inspirational and they give us hope. But in some cases they may also lull us into a false sense of security, particularly when it comes to something like stroke.

The truth is that very rarely does stroke—also known as a "brain attack"—give its victims a warning. When it does, it’s usually in the form of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or "mini" stroke. These episodes cause symptoms—such as vision or balance problems—briefly before resolving. The problem is that even though TIAs don’t last long, they are a strong indication that a true stroke is imminent in a majority of patients.

And unfortunately, most full-blown strokes occur without warning—and at their worst can lead to long-term disability and even death.

On Tuesday, July 5, members of Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program will give community members a comprehensive introduction to stroke and its risk factors, knowledge that Ash Jain, M.D., the program’s medical director, considers invaluable when it comes to prevention and detection of stroke.

Don’t lower your guard against stroke

"We have been educating members of the community about this issue for many years now, but there is still work to be done," says Dr. Jain. "As long as there are people who remain unaware of what stroke is and the dangers it poses, we will continue to see people waiting too long to call 9-1-1 and seeking treatment later than we would like."

Dr. Jain says that stroke is not something that will go away, and he advise all members of the community to be aware of the risk factors and symptoms, as well as what they can do to prevent a disease that many victims refer to as worse than death.

Still, Dr. Jain is quick to point out that treatment of stroke—the third leading cause of death in the United States—continues to evolve. And, notably, the treatment window at certified Primary Stroke Centers, like Washington Hospital, has grown in recent years.

"There is a window of up to eight hours that you can successfully manage strokes, though in most of the hospitals the window is limited to 4 ½ hours. Beyond that timeframe, you have to go into the brain, which requires specialized expertise and equipment that we employ at Washington Hospital, one of the few centers in the Bay Area with this capability."

This may be good news, but advancements in stroke treatment do not mean that the public should lower its guard against stroke, Dr. Jain says.

"Stroke is the most disabling disease out there," he says. "Life after stroke can be terrible, so if we can prevent it, that is the ideal outcome."

During the upcoming seminar, Dr. Jain will focus on the clues that indicate an individual might have an increased risk of suffering stroke.

Among the risk factors that Dr. Jain will discuss are:

- High blood pressure
- Diabetes
- High cholesterol
- Blockages in the neck arteries
- Irregular heartbeat such as atrial fibrillation

Fortunately, these conditions and others can be easily diagnosed and managed, granted community members seek screening and medical attention, according to Dr. Jain.

"We have tools to diagnose these risk factors, which helps us in managing them to reduce the chances of stroke in the future," he says. "For example, we can perform an angiogram to accurately determine if stenting or surgery is needed for a blockage in the neck artery. And similarly, we can use an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check for atrial fibrillation, which can be managed with medication. I will also discuss other recent advances in management of these risk factors."

But if a stroke does happen, Dr. Jain says the most important thing to do is act immediately.

"Ultimately, if a member of the community does have a stroke, we want them to get to the hospital as fast as possible."

Stroke symptoms no big deal? Think again

With the Fourth of July weekend coming up, recognizing stroke and taking immediate action cannot be underscored enough, according to Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program.

"When it comes to TIAs and ‘minor’ strokes, approximately 70 percent of patients don’t correctly recognize the symptoms and just sort of neglect the symptoms and say, ‘Well, I’m fine now.’ And that’s where I say: Wrong! These are little warning signs of a big stroke if you’re not careful. That’s why the Stroke Program always admits TIA patients when they come into the ER, even if their symptoms are gone."

Symptoms like balance, vision or speech impairment—even if they seem to come and go—could be hinting at something much more ominous on the horizon, Van Houten says.

"If a patient experiences stroke symptoms, we need to perform a full diagnosis, which includes checking fasting blood glucose, fasting cholesterol panels, carotid arteries, hypertension, as well as putting them on a heart monitor overnight to check for irregularities like atrial fibrillation," he explains.

According to a study that Van Houten cites, as much as five percent of individuals suffering from a serious TIA—with symptoms such as speech impairment or limb weakness for an hour or more—will have a serious stroke in 48 hours. This makes TIAs or "mini" strokes as close as it comes to a second chance.

The overall lesson, according to Van Houten, is to learn about stroke now—and most importantly how to recognize it.

"There are three main ways to help yourself and your family members when it comes to stroke: prevent it, detect it and act by calling 9-1-1," he says. "It’s also important to mention, particularly for patients who are uninsured or under-insured, that you really should go to a the emergency room for signs of stroke."

Don’t be a victim

To get detailed information about the factors that put you at risk for stroke, as well as the warning signs you shouldn’t ignore, make sure to attend the Introduction to Stroke/Risk Factors for Stroke seminar on Tuesday, July 5, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in the Washington West building.

For more information or to register, call (510) 745-6525 or visit www.whhs.com/stroke

 

 

 

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