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August 26, 2009 > Live an Active, Full Life: Prevent Stroke

Live an Active, Full Life: Prevent Stroke

Seminar Addresses Stroke Prevention and Role of Healthy Lifestyle

Stroke, also known as a brain attack, may occur suddenly and sometimes with little warning, but the third leading cause of death in the United States mostly preventable - if you take the right steps.

Stroke prevention actually has a lot to do with other disease processes. For instance, unchecked high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol are all major risk factors for stroke, according to Dr. Ash Jain, medical director of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program.

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont, a medical staff member of the Stroke Program and Stroke Program Coordinator Doug Van Houten, R.N. will present a seminar on stroke prevention and healthy lifestyle as part of the free Community Stroke Education Series.

Understanding the disease processes that affect stroke risk

"Conditions such as hypertension and diabetes increase the risk of stroke because they contribute to atherosclerosis, which causes blockages in the arteries," Dr. Jain says. "These blockages and the plaque on the arterial wall can break off and travel upstream to cause an embolic event."

In other words, a clot travels to the brain and cuts off vital blood supply - which quickly leads to death of brain tissue and can leave a person permanently disabled, especially if treatment is not sought immediately.

So what can people do to prevent a stroke? Dr. Jain recommends addressing any risk factors you may have - sooner rather than later.

"It is essential that patients talk with their physician about all the risk factors," he says.

Some risk factors, like smoking, have to do with lifestyle; others are a matter of genetics and must be treated by a physician.

"If you have irregular heartbeat or atherosclerosis, these conditions need to be treated," Dr. Jain points out. "There also are simple tests for risk factors that we do in the Stroke Program, which are not usually done my most physicians, called Homocysteine CRP-HS because these are quite strong indicators for stroke."

According to Dr. Jain, the single strongest risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure, but the others are very important as well, especially diabetes.

"Stroke often does happen with no advance warning, but at the same time, there are warning signs for stroke that are ignored or not found out in many cases," he says. "Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), numbness and tingling - these are indicators of impending stroke."

Dr. Jain recommends that anyone age 50 and older with several risk factors for stroke, as well as those of any age who have irregular heartbeat, should be attend the upcoming seminar.

The cost of good health

Doug Van Houten, R.N., coordinator of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program, wants to know how much you would pay to significantly increase your chances of good health.

Would you pay $10 a day for a pill that would reduce - by 50 percent to 90 percent - your chances of dying from five of the six top killers in the United States?
There's just one catch. The pill is free, but it isn't a really pill, and Van Houten's secret requires a little hard work and vigilance.

Putting aside genetic risk factors, making healthy changes to your daily lifestyle is one of the most effective ways to prevent stroke, as well as heart attack, many types of cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes, according to Van Houten.

"We're sort of a pill taking society," he says. "Think how much people spend on vitamins, really expensive foods and going to the gym when you really don't have to do those things. If you monitor your weight, eat healthy food, abstain from smoking and excessive drinking and get in the habit of exercise, you really can prevent these major causes of death in the United States, especially stroke."

Van Houten says he hears a lot of patients who don't want to give up their old habits say things like, "You're gonna die sometime."

"To that, I say 'Why not make the choice to live fully so you're not dying slowly of chronic conditions?'" Van Houten responds. "We tend to have bad lifestyles because it's all around us in the form of commercials and advertisements. Many people also get into bad habits because these things are quick, fast and satiating, like smoking cigarettes. And lots of times, your friends smoke, so it's harder to quit. What I tell people is: 'If you really want to take your health seriously, you might have to change your friends - find healthy people to hang around with.'"

Van Houten suggests making the decision to meet a whole new set of friends at the gym or joining a walking group and start spending time that would have been spent smoking talking about new ways to improve your health and fitness. He says it's all a matter of using your creativity to change habits.

"When people say 'I don't have time to exercise,' I give them healthy tips for how to fit it in," he says. "For example, schedule an hour for 'Mr. Nike' on your calendar and then use that time to go out and jog for a half hour. Make exercise a priority."

In addition to reducing your chances of falling victim to life-limiting chronic conditions, healthy lifestyle changes that Van Houten will discuss during the upcoming seminar will help you feel - and look - great, he says.

Learn how to prevent stroke

To learn more from members of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program about stroke prevention and healthy lifestyle, attend the next free Stroke Education Series seminar on Tuesday, Sept. 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To register, call (800) 963-7070. To learn more about the Stroke Program, visit, click on "Services & Programs," choose "Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute" and select "Stroke Program."

For more information about Washington Hospital's Stroke Support Group, call (510) 745-6525.

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