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February 22, 2011 > Education Remains the Greatest Tool in Improving Stroke Outcomes

Education Remains the Greatest Tool in Improving Stroke Outcomes

Stroke Specialists Give Free Introductory Talk on No. 1 Cause of Long-Term Disability

If there's one part of our bodies we want to safeguard first, many of us would go with the one that controls all the rest: the brain.

One of the biggest enemies to one of the most important organs we have is stroke, which is also known as a "brain attack." The good news is that stroke is preventable-up to 80 percent preventable-and treatable. There is a catch, though. Stroke outcomes depend very much on the patient-and his or her family members-recognizing the signs of stroke and immediately seeking medical attention. Likewise, prevention is all about what you know and what you choose to do with the information.

To help community members gain life-saving knowledge about stroke, Washington Hospital's Stroke Program will on Tuesday, March 1, begin the next four-month cycle of free stroke education with: "Introduction to Stroke/Risk Factors for Stroke."

"This is a great time to start with stroke education because we're going to be starting the whole cycle all over again and this is where you can get started with a great introduction," says Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of the hospital's Stroke Program. "I prefer that people start from the beginning and come to every seminar in the series so that they can get the full spectrum of education. This is a perfect time to do it. Things often start in spring and here we are starting in spring."

Recently, there have been some indications that stroke has dropped from the third to fourth leading cause of death in the United States, which Van Houten estimates has something to do with better stroke education across the country.

"The number of certified stroke centers in the U.S. has probably doubled since we started our program, so maybe there is better stoke care across the country," he says. "Overall, I think that stroke education is getting to people. More people know the signs of stroke, they know to call 9-1-1 and they know to try to prevent stroke."

Despite this recent trend in statistics, Van Houten says this is no time for the stroke community to rest on its laurels.

"The data is still not satisfactory," he notes. "We have only begun to make an impact and we have a long way to go. In the long run, community stroke education will be the effort that has the greatest impact on reducing stroke."

If you're thinking that stroke has nothing to do with you, Van Houten says think again.

"Number one, almost nobody has not been touched by the stroke problem in some way," he says. "With 6.4 million people living with stroke, almost everyone has had a family or friend impacted by stroke. Chances are you've got a cousin or uncle or father who's had stroke because it's so common."

Number two, most people who have stroke either don't recognize they are having a stroke or don't know what to do, according to Van Houten.

"A lot of people don't even know what stroke is," he says. "If strokes were terribly painful, patients would come in right away. When a patient has appendicitis, he comes right into the ER. This is why people don't usually get appendicitis and die because they just never went into the hospital, but that can be the case with stroke because patients often think, 'I'm just overly tired and I need a nap,' and that's just what they don't need."

"Almost never do people come in at that emergent time or call 9-1-1 right away. What usually happens is a family member or friend detects that. Just like people learn CPR, advanced pediatric care or first aid, they should learn what to do in case of stroke. During this first seminar, I teach people what to do in case of stroke."

Lastly, stroke remains the number one cause of long-term disability and the fourth leading killer in the United States.

"This means it's possible that this sort of thing could happen to you," Van Houten says. "And 80 percent of the time it's preventable, but you need to start now to prevent a stroke in the future. These things come decades down the line and you can work now to prevent that."

He asks people to think of all the preventive measures they take to safeguard their health-dental cleanings twice a year, annual physical exams, vaccinations as a child, and even cleaning and using antibiotic ointment on a cut.

"These are all actions we take to prevent bad things from happening in the short- or long-term," he says. "Why not take the fourth leading killer and put steps for prevention into your medicine chest of skills?"

Coming up

In two months, during the May 3 stroke education seminar focusing on healthy lifestyle, Van Houten plans to tackle a new subject that has a lot to do with stroke: metabolic syndrome.

"Metabolic syndrome is not something that the average person knows about," he says. "It's not even really talked about that much by people in the medical profession, but I think it's something we want to focus on when we talk about prevention and healthy lifestyle."

According to Van Houten, metabolic syndrome is represented by a combination of five characteristics, including many risk factors for stroke-such as high cholesterol, abdominal obesity and insulin resistance or glucose intolerance.

"If you've got three of the factors, you're considered to have metabolic syndrome, which is highly associated with cardiac risk. The problem is that you ask ten people what metabolic syndrome is and they won't know."

Knowledge is power

To learn more about stroke, including what it is, how to recognize the signs and what to do if a family member is having a stroke, attend the free "Introduction to Stroke/Risk Factors for Stroke" seminar on Tuesday, March 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Washington West building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

Call (510) 745-6525 or visit to register.

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