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March 8, 2011 > Ignoring the Risk Now Could Cost Plenty Later

Ignoring the Risk Now Could Cost Plenty Later

Free Stroke Awareness Event Helps Community Members Recognize Risk Factors

When gas prices go up, we feel it immediately... in our pocketbooks. And, for better or worse, that's when we tend to take note of things: when they hurt.

Unfortunately, when it comes to stroke-the No. 1 cause of long-term disability in the United States-it's possible to inch closer and closer to disaster without any warning.

To help community members better understand their stroke risk, Washington Hospital will conduct its annual Stroke Awareness Day Screenings on Saturday, March 26. Sponsored by Fremont Bank, the screenings will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditoriums at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. Registration is required by calling (800) 963-7070.

"This event is a valuable opportunity for community members to learn more about their stroke risk at no cost to them," according to Ash Jain, M.D., Washington Hospital Stroke Program medical director. "We're doing the screening because it is critical to assess these risk factors so that patients can take proactive steps to prevent stroke."

Stroke risk factors, according to Dr. Jain, include high blood pressure, tobacco use, diabetes, carotid or other artery disease, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, and excess weight. To address these, screenings at the event will include checking blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol, as well as an ultrasound test for carotid disease.

New this year, the event will also include an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check for atrial fibrillation, another significant risk factor for stroke. Atrial fibrillation, a disorder found in about 2.2 million Americans, is attributable to approximately 15 percent of ischemic strokes, which are caused by blood clots, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

During atrial fibrillation, the AHA's Web site explains, the heart's two small upper chambers, called the atria, don't beat effectively and blood isn't pumped completely out of them, potentially leading to pooling and clotting of blood. If a clot breaks off in the atria and leaves the heart, it can become lodged in an artery in the brain and results in a stroke.

"You do not necessarily know that you have atrial fibrillation, yet it is the most common cardiac arrhythmia after age 65," according to Doug Van Houten, R.N., the Stroke Program's clinical coordinator. "And, remember, 75 percent of strokes occur in those older than 65."

Van Houten points out that the screening event later this month is unique in that a number of normally costly screenings are available all in one place-at no cost to participants.

"This screening day is really something that I think is unusual overall," he says. "I talked to a lot of people when I attended the International Stroke Conference last month and they were really excited that we were able to provide things like carotid artery screening to community members."

The best part, as Dr. Jain points out, is that making changes now based on screening results can have enormous impact on the risk factors for stroke.

"Obviously you can't control factors such as age, but most risk factors can be controlled with a healthy diet and exercise," Jain says. "If we are able to identify the problem through these screenings, your physician may prescribe medications to help control blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes, or to help with quitting smoking. We also can conduct various screenings such as MRIs and carotid artery Doppler sonograms to detect blockages."

And your health isn't the only thing you save. When it comes to the almighty dollar, Van Houten says savvy patients will jump at the chance to avoid hefty out-of-pocket costs down the road.

"Think of knee replacement surgery and a three-day hospital stay, which could run more than $150,000 in total cost," Van Houten says. "Then think about the potential cost to a stroke patient who is admitted to intensive care for two or three days, stays on the nursing floor for four days, and then undergoes acute rehab for four weeks before continued home care. It's not difficult for costs to range from $20,000 to $30,000 a day in the ICU."

"If we can catch three, four or five cases with these screenings, it would go a long way to saving people a lot of misery and cost down the line. The more we can do to prevent stroke, the better it is for the community."

Free risk assessment

After screening participants are tested for high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar (diabetes), carotid disease and irregular heartbeat, they will have the chance to talk one-on-one with Dr. Jain, who will explain the test results and make recommendations for follow-up care.

What: Stroke Awareness Day & Screenings*
When: Saturday, March 26, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Washington West (2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont)
Call: (800) 963-7070
* To qualify, participants must pre-register. No walk-ins.

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