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Advances in Stroke Treatment and Diagnosis: What You Need to Know

January 31, 2012

The Importance of Finding the ‘New You’ in the Aftermath of Stroke

As acute treatment for stroke continues to evolve, Dr. Ash Jain, medical director of the Stroke Program at Washington Hospital, points to widening treatment windows and impressive advancements that allow for better outcomes, particularly at Primary Stroke Centers—programs certified by The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association (AHA)—like the one at Washington Hospital.

But advancements do not lessen the severity of a condition that represents the No. 1 cause of long-term disability in the United States.

“It is important for people to recognize the risk that stroke represents,” Dr. Jain says. “Stroke is a devastating disease process that no one wants to go through. The fortunate news is that our program has streamlined the process for diagnosis of stroke, beginning from the very moment someone arrives in the ER or calls 9-1-1, and we continue to exceed national benchmarks for several important indicators, including patient education and treatment.”

Educate yourself about stroke
Even for community members living in proximity to a Primary Stroke Center, it’s important to get the facts about stroke, because a better understanding of the disease leads to better outcomes, according to Dr. Jain.

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m., Dr. Jain and Stroke Program Coordinator Doug Van Houten, R.N., will present a free community seminar, focusing on vital information about the future in diagnosis and management of stroke, as well as common issues that people deal with following stroke.

Dr. Jain says he likes to begin with a brief tutorial on stroke—its risk factors and why it happens—before delving into the details of stroke management and the latest information about medications that have recently become available, or will become available in coming years.

The use of existing treatments, including “clot-busting” medications, also continues to advance.
 
“To dissolve these blood clots, we have Tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA),” Dr. Jain explains. “Techniques have advanced, and now it’s a question of giving the tPA in the emergency room via IV; directly into the carotid artery; or using devices to pull the clot out, including the Merci catheter and Penumbra, which are used to take the clot out of brain arteries to reopen the channels.”

Dr. Jain says it’s imperative for all members of the community, younger and older, to learn the facts about stroke.

“Taking advantage of the latest advancements in the diagnosis and management of stroke requires active participation on the part of every member of the care team, including the patient,” he says. “It is vital that patients, EMTs and the ER physicians are all in sync so we can rush a patient through the treatment process and not lose any time, because the faster we treat patients, the better the outcomes.”

What now?
Life changes after a stroke, sometimes a little—sometimes a lot, according to Doug Van Houten, R.N.

“It can be hard to go forward, but that’s the challenge after stroke,” he says. “It’s such a good time to sit there and say, ‘Things have happened, this isn’t where I wanted to go, but I’m here, and now what are we going to do to adapt and go on?’”

“Life after stroke isn’t the end; it’s just different.”

One of Van Houten’s suggestions is to take a page from famed physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking’s life experience. Despite being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, early in his career, Hawking didn’t let that stop him.

“This month Steven Hawking turned 70,” Van Houten says. “Most people with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis, but for some reason, this guy, who was diagnosed at 21, has made it this far.”

“It’s not about whether you’ve had a stroke or ALS; it’s about the extreme impairment that comes along with conditions like these. You might be feeling pretty sorry for yourself if you couldn’t move one arm, but here’s a guy where it takes him a minute to formulate a word on a computer screen, and he can only twitch a muscle in his cheek, yet he’s gone on to solve some of the most incredible physics and cosmological questions of our time. This is a guy who didn’t let neurological impairment hold him back. He’s found a way to live.”

Van Houten says there are plenty of “real life” examples to choose from as well. One former patient at the hospital, not being able to return to his high-powered job after suffering brain damage from heart attack complications, went on to support other patients through his volunteering.

“He had great empathy and was so effective. If his cardiac arrest hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have had him, and he definitely wouldn’t have developed those skills for helping others.”

After stroke—or any other type of serious impairment—it’s about finding the “new you,” Van Houten explains.

“Freud said there are two things in life, love and work,” he says. “If you’re not contributing or doing some kind of work, then I don’t think you can be happy and feel good about what’s going on in your life. And after stroke, I think people need to find another way to contribute, which I’ll cover in this seminar.”

Free knowledge
To learn more about what comes next in the diagnosis and treatment of stroke, as well as how to live life to the fullest after stroke, attend the next Free Stroke Education Series seminar on Tuesday, Feb. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. 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.”