Stroke Prevention Is the Best Strategy
Stroke Professionals Look at Disease Processes That Impact Stroke Risk
Do you have the tools to prevent stroke? If you're not sure, plan to attend a free upcoming talk that will highlight simple ways to reduce your risk of this deadly disease.
"Many times people don't realize that common conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, greatly impact a patient's overall risk for stroke," says Washington Hospital's Stroke Program Medical Director Ash Jain, M.D. "The good news is that stroke can be prevented in as many as 80 percent of cases."
Preventing Stroke by Managing Health Conditions
On Tuesday, Sept. 3, community members are invited to attend a free Stroke Education Series seminar, "Stroke Prevention and Other Disease Processes/Healthy Lifestyle - Be Smart and Avoid Stroke," in order to better understand steps they can take to prevent stroke.
"Early stroke prevention is vitally important because all too often stroke has few warning signs," Dr. Jain says. "Even with the best technology and resources at our disposal as a Primary Stroke Center certified by The Joint Commission and American Heart Association (AHA)/American Stroke Association (ASA), the best possible outcome for our patients is to avoid having a stroke in the first place."
When looking at stroke prevention, he notes the best place to start is with reliable information-and by attending next week's talk, community members can find out more about disease processes that can be managed through medication or lifestyle changes. Dr. Jain also strongly recommends regular visits to the doctor for screening tests to identify risk factors.
"Certain conditions - such as uncontrolled hypertension, high blood glucose levels and hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol) - can cause damage to blood vessels throughout the body, including the brain," Dr. Jain explains. "When blood vessels - mainly arteries and arterioles - are compromised, it leads to an increased risk of stroke."
"The only way to effectively diagnose and treat these disease processes is to visit your primary care physician, who can manage your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. By keeping those three risk factors under control, you can greatly reduce your risk of stroke."
To minimize overall stroke risk, Dr. Jain says that:
* Fasting blood sugar should be less than 140.
* Blood pressure should be less than 140 (systolic) over 90 (diastolic).
* Total cholesterol should be less than 150.
"Stroke is commonly known as a silent killer, because most of these risk factors build up over time with few noticeable symptoms before a stroke finally occurs," he points out.
He adds that implementing healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way toward preventing strokes; however, other risk factors for stroke, such as atrial fibrillation or paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (PAF) - known as a controllable medical risk factor - will require early diagnosis, which needs a complete cardiovascular evaluation. Even with good examination it is difficult to diagnose PAF and hence needs close monitoring in high-risk patient populations.
"If you don't know that you're at risk for stroke, it's hard to prevent it. I always recommend that community members visit their physician to identify and manage both lifestyle-related and medically manageable risk factors for stroke."
A Healthy Lifestyle Includes a Trip to the Doctor's Office
Stroke Program Clinical Coordinator Doug Van Houten, R.N., says part of a healthy lifestyle is learning about controllable risk factors - like atrial fibrillation, which is the most common type of heart rhythm disorder, known as an arrhythmia.
"A lot of people may not have heard of atrial fibrillation, but as it turns out, it's a really big cause of stroke," he says. "Upper chambers of the heart quiver and don't pump correctly, which causes the blood to get stagnant and form blood clots that can be ejected and can go right to the brain, causing a big stroke."
Van Houten says the American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that atrial fibrillation, also known as A-fib or AF, is responsible for as many as 20 percent of strokes. However, he thinks the percentage could be even much higher, because while constant A-fib occurs regularly, paroxymal atrial fibrillation (PAF) - as Dr. Jain noted - is trickier to diagnose, given that it comes and goes.
"Unless you have a doctor looking at the heart's rhythm at that moment, paroxymal A-fib may not get diagnosed," Van Houten points out.
While the chances of A-fib occurring increase as people age, he says there's also some indication that it may be related to an unhealthy lifestyle, including having high blood pressure, lack of exercise, and being overweight.
"A-fib is something that needs to be managed closely by a doctor," Van Houten emphasizes. "By giving patients anticoagulants, the health care team can keep a patient's blood thin so the blood clots don't form."
Most of the time, people don't notice A-fib, according to Van Houten. However, if you've ever had heart palpitations or a racing feeling in the chest, it's a good idea to get checked out by your doctor.
"The truth is that a healthy lifestyle includes regular medical checkups," he says. "In this busy world where not everyone has health insurance, going to the doctor is sometimes reduced to going only when you feel bad. In the long run, though, it's worth it to get a full set of lab work, an EKG, get your weight checked, and talk about your lifestyle habits."
"Not going to the doctor for a checkup is like having really bad tires on your car and just adding air. It doesn't help in the long run if the tires are still losing air."
To learn more about how disease processes like diabetes and hypertension impact stroke risk, and how to lower your risk of stroke, make sure to attend the upcoming free stroke seminar focusing on prevention. The class will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 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.