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Learn Today, Save a Life Tomorrow

June 26, 2012

Experts Talk About Stroke and Its Risk Factors

It's hard to know whether you're at risk for something when there are no outward signs. Stroke is a good example. Also known as a "brain attack," stroke has many risk factors you wouldn't know about unless you go to the doctor to get them checked out.

Dr. Ash Jain, medical director of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program, says it's vitally important for community members to take some time to learn about stroke and how they can address risk factors like high blood pressures and diabetes.

"I want people to know that it's not just their own lives they could save by learning more about stroke," Dr. Jain says. "By attending the free Stroke Education Series, they will learn information that could save a family member."

Dr. Jain characterizes stroke as a "devastating" disease that a majority of patients don't see coming until it's too late.

"Washington Hospital is a Primary Stroke Center certified by The Joint Commission and the American Stroke Association, which means that we have the most advanced tools available for the acute management of stroke," Dr. Jain says. "However, I like to catch people before they have a stroke and make sure that they take the initiative and learn about the disease and their own risk factors."

A Silent Killer

Ischemic strokes, which account for 90 percent of all stroke cases, occur when a blood clot travels to the brain and cuts off vital oxygen and nutrients that keep brain cells alive.

"After brain cells die, there is no regenerating them," Dr. Jain points out. "What we want to do is treat the patient as fast as possible to prevent further damage. The sooner patients arrive in the hospital, the more effectively we can reopen the blood vessels and improve their outcomes."

The challenge is that most of the time risk factors like the ones that will be addressed in the upcoming seminar don't have any symptoms, which means they can go undetected unless you go to the doctor for regular checkups.

"Stroke is often called a silent killer because risk factors like hypertension don't have any obvious symptoms," according to Dr. Jain. "But even if there are no symptoms, that doesn't mean the problem doesn't need to be addressed."

As a result, it is the community members' responsibility to learn about stroke, it's risk factors, and signs that someone is having a stroke so that they can take appropriate action.

"If a stroke does occur, we want to make sure that everyone in the family recognizes the symptoms and that they don't delay in seeking immediate emergency medical attention."

Know When to Act FAST

Doug Van Houten, R.N., says he likes to make things easy when talking about stroke, a disease that remains a top ten killer in the United States and is the leading cause of long-term disability.

"My goal now is to try to make it as simple as I can when I talk to people about stroke and really focus on "Think FAST," he says. "People can remember that, and that's what's important in an emergency."

FAST is an acronym for how to identify stroke and what to do about it:

  • F stands for Face. When you ask the person to smile, does his or her face droop on one side?
  • A stands for Arms. When you ask the person to raise both arms, does one arm drift downward?
  • S stands for Speech. When you ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, do they slur or sound unusual?
  • T stands for Time. If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

"When I go to events in the community and ask people if they know the signs of stroke, they'll say, "Pain in the left arm? Shortness of breath?" Van Houten says. "I tell them to remember face, arms, speech. I'm really hoping to get people to remember this."

Even if you don't think you're at risk for stroke, Van Houten says it's still important to learn more about it.

"I tell people to learn these things for your family and your friends," he says. "Most times if you're having a stroke, you're impaired and you can't make that call. You have to have your family pick this up. If you learn it and someone is having symptoms, you'll be able to help save them by calling 9-1-1."

"I'm starting to have more people say to me, 'I called 9-1-1 even though they didn't want me to.' That's a funny thing about stroke is that people don't want to make a big to-do about it. They say, 'I'll call the doctor tomorrow,' or 'I'll take a nap.''"

Van Houten adds that delaying is one of the worst things you can do in the case of stroke.

"Time really does matter," he states. "Consider FAST a quick tool in your first aid kit of knowledge. In as little as 30 seconds you'll know with 80 percent accuracy and what to do in case of stroke, which is call 9-11 as quick as you can."

High Marks

For the second year in a row, Washington Hospital is a Five-Star recipient for Stroke Care. Washington Hospital was also named a recipient of the 2012 HealthGrades Stroke Care Excellence Award and ranked among the top 5 percent in the nation for the treatment of stroke. These distinctions place Washington Hospital in an elite group of hospitals across the nation.

Learn More About Stroke

Next Tuesday, July 3, Dr. Jain and Stroke Program Clinical Coordinator Doug Van Houten, R.N., will present a free overview of what stroke is, how to identify its signs and symptoms, how to determine risk, and why it's so vitally important to call 9-1-1 if you suspect that you or a family member is having a stroke. The seminar will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont.

To register, call (800) 963-7070 or visit www.whhs.com.

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