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New Year's Resolution: Stroke Prevention

Stroke, the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of long-term disability, is 80 percent preventable, according to Dr. Ash Jain, cardiologist and medical director of the Washington Hospital Stroke Program.

A stroke is damage to the brain that occurs when circulation to the brain is impaired, usually from a blood clot or ruptured blood vessel. The most important thing anyone can do to prevent stroke is to understand the risk factors, how they apply to you, and then to begin to treat them. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and obesity.

If you have any of these risk factors, stroke prevention should be at the top of your New Year’s list of resolutions.

To further educate the public about stroke prevention and treatment, Washington Hospital is offering a series of free education programs open to the public beginning Tuesday, January 5.

The first program, “Stroke Prevention and Other Disease Processes; Health Lifestyle — Be Smart and Avoid Stroke” will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD, Auditorium, room B at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, Fremont. To register for the free seminar, call (800) 963-7070 or visit

In addition to prevention, early recognition of the signs of stroke is essential. “The sooner we can treat a patient who has suffered a stroke, the better the results are likely to be,” Dr. Jain said. “The degree of the patient’s disability is determined by how big the stroke is and what part of the brain is affected,” he explained.

Disability is defined as difficulty speaking and communicating, difficulty using one’s arms or legs due to paralysis, blindness and/or difficulty swallowing. Stroke survivors often lose their independence and ability to live the same life they lived before the stroke.

The best way to detect a stroke is to “Think FAST.” Look for the following signs:

  • Facial weakness — sometimes an asymmetrical smile or droop.
  • Arm weakness — one arm is weak and drifts down when the person is asked to hold his/her arms out.
  • Speech impairment — is the person able to speak? If so, are the words slurred or unclear?
  • Time — it is an emergency. Call 911 immediately.

“The good news is that stroke generally is preventable, but the bad news is that the risk factors for stroke can be hidden,” added Doug Van Houten, RN, Washington Hospital Stroke Program coordinator. These “hidden” factors include cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes, along with smoking, using drugs and drinking alcohol to excess.

If you suspect a stroke, call 911 immediately. Treatment must begin within a short few hours from the onset of the stroke, Dr. Jain emphasized. Brain damage occurs quickly: a person suffering a large stroke loses two million brain cells every minute, according to the American Stroke Association.

For stroke victims, the cutting-edge care at a certified Primary Stroke Center like that at Washington Hospital is critical to mitigating the damage from a stroke.

“Our primary goal is to open the artery where the obstruction to blood flow is located as quickly as possible once a patient reaches our emergency room, because time is everything when it comes to effective management of a stroke,” Dr. Jain said. “Even small delays can have heavy costs, and research has shown that outcomes are better when people can properly identify signs of stroke and seek help immediately.”

However, Van Houten added, the best treatment is preventative: deal with the risk factors in advance. And, if you have had a previous stroke or have a disease that is identified with stroke susceptibility — such as diabetes, heart and circulatory problems or high blood pressure — take active and aggressive steps to manage those diseases so that they don’t lead to a stroke sometime in your future.

“Make sure you see your doctor regularly for a complete check-up,” Dr. Jain said. And, he urged, “Be sure to be checked for irregular heartbeats as that is a condition that causes one-third of strokes and often doesn’t show up in regular exams.”

Future Stroke 101 programs include:

  • February 2: Living with Stroke & Future in Diagnosis and Management
  • March 1: Introduction — Stroke & Risk Factors for Stroke
  • April 5: Acute Management of Stroke & Chronic Care and Stroke Rehabilitation
  • May 3: Stroke Prevention and Other Disease Processes & Healthy Lifestyle — Be Smart and Avoid Stroke
  • June 7: Living with Stroke & Future in Diagnosis and Management