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Avoid Stroke, Start Here: Free Stroke Education Series Begins Again with Introduction to Stroke

February 26, 2013

Every month Dr. Ash Jain, cardiologist and medical director of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program, invites community members to learn about different aspects of stroke, a potentially deadly disease process that occurs when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

Next Tuesday, March 5, the Free Stroke Education Series at Washington Hospital will begin again, giving community members an in-depth introduction to stroke and a better understanding of their risk.

Start from the Beginning

"The beginning of the Stroke Education Series is very important, particularly for members of the community who don't fully understand what stroke is or may not be able to recognize its symptoms," Dr. Jain explains.

He adds that the Stroke Program relies on community members to know the signs of stroke so that they can seek emergency medical attention immediately if they suspect a stroke in themselves or someone close to them.

"We are always seeking to improve patients' outcomes, because stroke is the most devastating disease there is," Dr. Jain says. "Something people may not realize is that they play a critical role in stroke care. Timing is everything when it comes to treatment of stroke, and when community members recognize stroke, they are much more likely to take the appropriate action."

Methods for treating and diagnosing stroke are constantly evolving, and the Stroke Education Series is a good way to stay up-to-date on the latest advancements from experts in the field.

"Part of the reason I attended last year's World Stroke Congress in Brazil was to ensure that our program is doing all it can to improve our patients' outcomes following stroke," Dr. Jain says. "However, the conference was about managing and preventing stroke, with little about the patient who also plays an important role.

This is why I strongly encourage community members to learn more about stroke before it happens, as that is where cycle of management starts and ends. Hence, we can improve results if we address the start of the cycle - at the point when the patient quickly recognizes the symptoms and seeks help."

Just being able to identify signs and symptoms of stroke and knowing when to call 9-1-1 can have a significant impact on stroke outcomes. Likewise, the faster someone reaches the hospital for stroke treatment, the better the chances are for recovery, according to Dr. Jain.

"We have a very efficient process for managing acute stroke, starting from the moment 9-1-1 is called, at which point the cascade of care in the hospital starts immediately," he says. "Getting to the ER if they suspect stroke can make the difference between minimal damage and long-term disability or death. This introduction to stroke seminar is an excellent means to learn the basics of stroke, including how to recognize it and prevent it."

Are You at Risk?

Certain factors put individuals at a higher risk for stroke. Some of them can be modified through lifestyle changes - like quitting smoking or managing high blood pressure. Others are things we can't change - like our race, gender, or family history of stroke.

Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of the Stroke Program at Washington Hospital, says he wants people to look at their overall stroke risk and identify ways they can lower it.

"When it comes to stroke risk, you can tell someone they're drinking or smoking too much, and they can stop if they want to reduce their chances of stroke," he explains. "On the other hand, if you're a woman or of African American descent, you can't say, 'I'm going to stop being that because it raises my chances of having a stroke.' Instead, you can say, 'I'm more likely than other groups to have a stroke, so I'm going to be really good about the risk factors that I have control over.''"

Likewise, he advises people to find out if they are in a high-risk category and to talk to their physician and family members about their risk factors.

"Here's an analogy. Both my father and younger brother have had radical prostatectomies for prostate cancer, so I'm in a higher risk group," Van Houten explains. "As a result, I've increased my surveillance, I have my PSA checked every four months, and I'm particularly careful about my diet since diets high in vegetables and fiber and lower in animal products tend to have less prostate cancer. I'm in higher risk category, not because I'm doing something wrong, but it's part of my makeup."

For people in high-risk groups for stroke - such as those who have had a heart attack, transient ischemic attack (known as a mini-stroke), or a full-blown stroke - Van Houten points out that past history is one of the most significant risk factors for stroke.

"In these cases, you have to recognize that you have the disease process in place for stroke, and that it doesn't go away after you've had a stroke," he explains. "Especially in these cases, you really have to focus on cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension because these are risk factors you can manage."

Learn More, Reduce Your Risk

For a comprehensive introduction to stroke and a better understanding of risk factors that impact the chances of suffering a stroke, attend the free community education seminar next Tuesday, March 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, (Washington West building) located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

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