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January 8, 2013 > To Prevent Stroke, Look at Total Health

To Prevent Stroke, Look at Total Health

Stroke Professionals Look at Managing Other Disease Processes, Diet

When it comes to your health, nothing happens in a vacuum, and this is particularly true when it comes to stroke.
"Many people in the community remain unaware of the impact of disease processes like hypertension and diabetes have on their overall risk for stroke," says Washington Hospital's Stroke Program Medical Director Ash Jain, M.D. "Stroke-in up to 80 percent of cases-can be prevented, and a good method of prevention is managing these issues."
On Tuesday, Jan. 15, members of the Stroke Program will present a free Stroke Education Series seminar, "Stroke Prevention and Other Disease Processes/Healthy Lifestyle-Be Smart and Avoid Stroke," to help community members better understand how they can prevent this deadly disease.
Controlling other disease processes
"Stroke is a devastating disease that takes many by surprise, because it often has few warning signs," Dr. Jain says. "When I attended the World Stroke Congress in Brazil this past October, I wanted to confirm that our program was doing all it could to ensure positive outcomes for our patients. However, the best possible outcome is never to have a stroke in the first place."
According to Dr. Jain, two important places to start when looking at stroke prevention are patient education-like the free Stroke Education Series at Washington Hospital-and visiting the doctor.
"Uncontrolled hypertension, high blood glucose levels and hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol) cause damage to blood vessels throughout the body, including the brain," Dr. Jain explains. "When blood vessels-from capillaries to arteries and veins-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 monitor your blood sugar and blood pressure. In total, by keeping those two risk factors under control, you can greatly reduce your risk of stroke."
To minimize overall stroke risk, Dr. Jain adds that:
* Fasting blood sugar should be less than 100.
* 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 discernable symptoms before a stroke finally occurs," he points out. "I never want to see a patient in the ER for a stroke that didn't have to happen."
Other risk factors for stroke include high cholesterol, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and unhealthy diet.
"If you already have problems with circulation in the body-like blockages in the heart, legs, or other areas-then you have to be very aggressive in management, as the chance of having a stroke is much higher," Dr. Jain says.
Circulation problems, or pain in your extremities that comes on with exercise and dissipates with rest, can indicate peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and should be evaluated by a physician. On the other hand, even if you feel perfectly fine-but you haven't been to the doctor recently-Dr. Jain says it's a good idea to make an appointment to make sure your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels are within healthy levels.
Eat right to prevent stroke
One of the most important elements of stroke prevention-and one you have complete control over-is a healthy diet. During the upcoming stroke seminar, Stroke Program Clinical Coordinator Doug Van Houten, R.N., will focus on healthy diet, particularly the benefits of incorporating more plant-based foods into your daily meal planning.
"There's a lot of research out there that says people who adopt a vegan diet-one that doesn't have animal products-lose weight and see their cholesterol drop tremendously, which are two major factors impacting cardiovascular disease."
"Being a vegetarian myself for the last 25 to 30 years, I see the goodness in it. I'm not that strict. I'll occasionally have milk products, but the important thing is that it's really engrained in me to eat a fair amount of vegetables. To some, maybe most, a vegetarian diet may seem very extreme, but it's not all or nothing."
Van Houten says most people can benefit from small, sustainable changes to their diet.
"During the talk, I would like to get audience members thinking about how they could structure some changes into their own diet to incorporate more fruits and veggies, while reducing fat, sodium, and meat products, which the evidence shows is the path to a healthier diet."
"I also think that our sense of moderation that has gone way off scale. For many people it's fine to go to fast food for lunch every day, and a perfectly normal snack is a soda and a bag of potato chips. I see people in the hospital doing this sort of thing all the time."
Van Houten says he recently had an eye-opening experience with a patient-only 55 years old-who had suffered a stroke. The man told him that he and his wife go out for every meal, and then at home he sits down in front of the TV with a pint of ice cream and an entire bag of cookies.
"The problem is that most restaurants make food that tastes really good-because it has more fat and sodium. And one or two cookies after dinner isn't a bad thing, but a pint of ice cream and a whole bag of cookies in front of the TV is asking for trouble," he says.
Van Houten points out that two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight or obese, and he says being thirty pounds overweight is the "new normal."
"When we're talking healthy lifestyles, I think one of the things we need to focus on is learning to eat right and getting back into the proper proportion."
Think about prevention now
To learn more about how disease processes like diabetes and hypertension impact stroke risk, and how to lower your risk through healthy diet, 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, Jan. 15, 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

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