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High Blood Pressure? Diabetes? You May Be at Risk for Stroke

December 27, 2011

Learn How You Can Make a DASH for Better Health During Free Seminar

Dr. Ash Jain, Medical Director of the Stroke Program at Washington Hospital, may be a leader in acute stroke care, but he would highly prefer not seeing you, or any other member of the community, as his next patient. Instead, he wants to see people preventing stroke before it happens.

“A large percentage of strokes in our community could be prevented by identifying and controlling other disease processes such as hypertension and diabetes,” Dr. Jain notes. “Conditions like these play a significant role in stroke risk, so people need to look closely at these factors to make sure they’re doing all they can to prevent stroke.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 3, Dr. Jain and Stroke Program Clinical Coordinator Doug Van Houten, R.N., will present the latest in Washington Hospital’s Stroke Education Series: “Stroke Prevention and Other Disease Processes/Healthy Lifestyle – Be Smart and Avoid Stroke.”

“People often may not realize how things like high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes increase their risk of stroke,” Dr. Jain says. “The reality is that these factors contribute to atherosclerosis, which can cause plaque. As plaque progresses and causes arterial blockage and decreased blood flow, it leads to cell death; or it can break off and block a smaller artery, which also can lead to cell death.”

This cell death, he says, is seen as a symptom of stroke. And unfortunately, in the case of brain cells, which do not regenerate, their death from lack of oxygen carried by the blood may leave victims of stroke permanently disabled, particularly in cases when treatment is not sought immediately.

To prevent stroke, Dr. Jain points out that there are a lot of things people can do, but the first priority is to figure out what your risk looks like now, so that you know where you have to improve.

“The first step is for patients to make an appointment with their primary care physician to talk about all the risk factors,” he says.

Primary care physicians may recommend changes to lifestyle, such as improving diet, incorporating exercise, and quitting smoking, but there are other factors that require medical intervention, according to Dr. Jain.

“For conditions such as irregular heartbeat or atherosclerosis, these conditions need to be diagnosed by a physician and treated accordingly in order to manage them properly,” he points out.

He reminds community members that stroke often occurs with no advance warning. Other times, warnings like transient ischemic attacks (TIAs)—which can cause a passing numbness and tingling—are not brought to the attention of the doctor because patients don’t realize how serious they are.

Dr. Jain recommends that anyone age 50 and older with several risk factors for stroke, as well as those of any age who have irregular heartbeat, make sure to attend the upcoming seminar.

Hit a home run with healthy lifestyle changes

When it comes to stroke prevention, a good place to start is with your plate, according to Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of the Stroke Program.

“During the upcoming seminar, I’ll spend some time talking about the DASH diet,” he says. “Often when I mention this, people will say, ‘You mean use Mrs. Dash?’ And, no, I’m actually talking about the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), which can actually help change your blood chemistry a little bit so that sodium is replaced with potassium by eating vegetables.”

High sodium intake is often linked to high blood pressure—or hypertension—particularly for individuals sensitive to it. And hypertension is considered by most medical experts to be one of the most significant factors in stroke risk. But dietary sodium doesn’t tell the whole story, according to Van Houten.

“The basic idea behind the DASH is that you eat a lot of are vegetables and fruits, focus on whole grain foods, lean protein, and low-fat dairy, and a very small amount of oils and even fewer sweets,” he says. “This approach is good for diabetes, heart health, and cancer prevention.”

“I read today that one in four people will probably die of cancer. But the American Cancer Society says if you eat five to six servings of fruits and vegetables, you can reduce risk of any cancer by 50 percent.”

The message here, according to Van Houten, is that what you eat—along with other lifestyle factors like regular exercise and quitting smoking—can have an enormous impact on not only stroke risk, but also your overall health.

“What you do to prevent hypertension, which is the main cause of stroke, gives you the added benefit of reducing all the ‘big hitters’ in chronic illness.”

How you can avoid stroke

To learn more about what you can do to decrease your risk of stroke, make sure to attend next Tuesday’s free stroke seminar focusing on prevention. The class will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 3 in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont.

To register, call Health Connection at (800) 963-7070 or visit www.whhs.com and click on “Upcoming Health Seminars.”

 

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