Preventable, treatable, beatable

Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. Every 40 seconds, someone has a stroke, and on average, someone dies of stroke every four minutes. These are just some statistics provided by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.

A new statement presented by the American Heart Association highlighted that stroke costs are predicted to more than double in the next 20 years, and Americans 45 to 64 years old are expected to have the highest increase in stroke incidence. The association cited the aging U.S. population as the main reason for the increases.

The American Heart Association has also made some predictions. By the year 2030, nearly one in 25 people will have a stroke, which translates into an additional 3.4 million people with stroke in that year. Costs to treat stroke may increase from $71.55 billion in 2010 to $183.13 billion. Annual costs due to lost productivity could rise from $33.65 billion to $56.54 billion.

Stroke is one of the top causes of preventable disability in the U.S. It occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or a bleeding vessel. Without oxygen-rich blood, brain cells die.

Symptoms of stroke include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion; trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; or sudden severe headache with no known cause.

According to Jerilyn Alexander, stroke coordinator for Trinity Health, the focus needs to be on prevention and early recognition. “Up to 80 percent of all strokes are preventable,” she said.

Screening tests, as a note, will give a person results for whether or not he or she is at risk for having a stroke, Alexander said, but following through on the results is the responsibility of the person. The person has to share the results with his or her physician since they are only given to the person being screened. Also, lifestyle changes are the responsibility of the person, Alexander added.

The high numbers of stroke incidences are not surprising, Alexander said, because the staff at Trinity has been seeing younger patients having strokes. She has seen a patient as young as 21 years old come in with a stroke.

Alexander said Trinity’s stroke program has been successful. The Legislature has set aside money for a stroke task force for the public, emergency medical technicians and rural hospitals, she added, and they’re using the money to educate people and get the word out about stroke. “When we started the stroke program (at Trinity), stroke was the fourth-leading cause of death in the state,” Alexander said. “And now it’s the sixth-leading cause.”

The nationwide trend is to set up stroke programs in hospitals. “Hospital politics are out the window because we all want patients to not suffer from stroke and be well,” Alexander noted.

Alexander said it really surprises her by how many people don’t know the symptoms of stroke. People experiencing symptoms of stroke still often don’t call 9-1-1, will wait for the symptoms to go away or will think it will get better.

“I don’t know what I need to do to get someone to come in when they experience symptoms of stroke,” she said.

“Catch it (stroke) early and recognize the symptoms and you can survive,” Alexander said. “If you live healthy, hopefully we can reduce incidence of stroke.”