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Now Is the Time to Find Out If You're at Risk for Stroke

March 05, 2013

Free Event Features Advanced Screenings, One-on-One Chat with Physicians

According to most sources, stroke - also known as a brain attack - is up to 80 percent preventable. However, the disease stubbornly remains on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)'s top 10 list of leading causes of death in the United States, and many people still don't know enough about it, according to Dr. Ash Jain, M.D., cardiologist and medical director of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program.

"It's always best to learn about stroke before it happens," according to Dr. Jain. "Most risk factors for stroke - such as high blood pressure - build up over time with no outward symptoms. Then you suffer a stroke, which leaves you at risk for permanent disability."

Later this month, Washington Hospital will host its free Stroke Awareness Day & Screenings event - an opportunity for members of the community to identify risk factors for stroke - on Saturday, March 23.

The event will feature important screening tests for stroke, including blood pressure, blood glucose (diabetes), electrocardiogram (EKG) for atrial fibrillation, and a test for carotid artery disease, as well as a chance to discuss the results of the screenings with Dr. Jain or another Washington Hospital Medical Staff physician.

Ischemic strokes - which account for the majority of strokes - are caused by blockages of the arterial pathways that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the brain, according to Dr. Jain. As a result, brain cells are literally starved of oxygen and begin to die off, making both prevention and early detection key, he says.

"This is why it is vitally important for members of the community to take advantage of free community screenings like the one coming up so that they can achieve a better understanding of their overall risk for stroke and take steps to prevent this devastating disease process," Dr. Jain says.

Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator for the Stroke Program, points out that Washington Hospital is fairly unique in the level of educational and preventive measures it offers to the community regarding stroke.

"The hospital actually does three kinds of screenings a year, all vascular in nature," he says. "There's the Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening in January, the Peripheral Vascular Disease Screening in June, and Stroke Awareness Day and Screening coming up later this month."

Van Houten says the event is the perfect opportunity to get screened and also learn from health care professionals what steps can be taken to lower stroke risk.

"My goal is to get as many people in and assessed as possible," he says. "We have all these professionals to test community members for various risk factors and to teach them. Then, two physicians will be available to put it all together for them."

Fortunately, most of the risk factors being screened for during the Stroke Awareness Day and Screening event are ones that can be reduced through simple lifestyle changes. Others, however - like atrial fibrillation - require a doctor's care.

Atrial fibrillation is not only the most common type of irregular heartbeat, but also one of the main risk factors for stroke, according to Dr. Jain. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) cites data indicating that AF accounts for between 15 percent and 20 percent of strokes in the United States.

"With atrial fibrillation, it is very important to identify these patients and treat them so that they don't go on to have strokes," Dr. Jain says. "Irregular heartbeat causes blood clots to form in the heart chamber, and these then travel to the brain, clogging the circulation and causing stroke. Also, heart function is decreased by as much as 30 percent, and this decrease in function makes people tired, short of breath, and they experience less energy and weakness and tiredness."

While AF and carotid artery disease require medical intervention, Van Houten is a big proponent of tackling the many preventable risk factors for stroke - like high blood pressure and obesity - with lifestyle changes like healthy diet and regular exercise.

"After someone has just gotten blood glucose and blood pressure tested, we'll do some really fast one-on-one education," he says of the event. "We might say, 'Your blood sugar is fine, but your blood pressure is high. Now you really need to be careful about sodium intake.' Then we might tell the person about the DASH diet and the benefits of exercising every day."

"The big thing is that this event is free, and a lot of people don't have money for preventive care. We're providing free health information and really good, focused tests that can help people determine their stroke risk."

Dr. Jain says that he would much rather help community members prevent stroke than have to treat them in the hospital. Still, he continues to see younger patients - including those in their 40s and 50s - coming to the hospital with stroke.

"Recognizing the signs and symptoms of stroke is important for every member of the community, because the faster people call 9-1-1, the sooner we can treat them and improve outcomes," he says. "At the same time, the more people we see and assess during Stroke Awareness Day, the less likely it is that we'll see those people in the ER because they'll be better able to manage their risk factors."

Free screenings

To learn about your risk for stroke and talk to experts in stroke care, make sure to attend the Stroke Awareness Day & Screenings event being held on Saturday, March 23, in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A and B, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont.

To register for the event, call (800) 963-7070.

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