Brooklyn, NY (PRWEB) May 11, 2007
Despite its standing as the third leading cause of death and the number-one cause of disability in the U.S., stroke is often a misunderstood condition – particularly among women. While it is true that men outnumber women among stroke patients over the age of 65, a new study reported at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2007 found that women between the ages of 45 and 54 are up to 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke than men in the same age group. In fact, due to differences in risk factors, symptoms and response rates to treatment, the American Stroke Association reports that in the general population nearly 50,000 more women than men in the U.S. suffer a stroke each year, and over 30,000 more women than men die as a result of their stroke.
“Women – particularly younger women – have distinct risk factors that put them in greater danger of a stroke,” explains Dr. Susanna Horvath, M.D., a neurologist and stroke specialist at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. “Sadly, women in the ‘prime of life’ age group (35-65 year-old) – which accounts for a quarter of all stroke victims each year – are largely unaware of the unique risks, symptoms and prevention strategies they need to know in order to protect themselves from stroke,” Dr. Horvath adds.
Stroke has reached epidemic status in the U.S.; according to the CDC, 700,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, and approximately 150,000 Americans die each year due to stroke – making stroke the third leading cause of death in this country. It is also the leading cause of disability in the U.S., costing the healthcare system more than $ 63 billion annually, according to the American Stroke Association.
Roughly 80% of all strokes are ischemic, caused by clogging of one or more arteries by plaque or by a blood clot, preventing blood flow to the brain. For women at risk, Dr. Horvath says, education and awareness is key. “There are three critical things women need to know in order to prevent, recognize, and ultimately survive an ischemic stroke,” she notes.
1. The risks are higher, but manageable
Dr. Horvath believes that, while the results of the new study were surprising, they are understandable. “Women in their late 30s and 40s are experiencing pregnancies at a greater rate than ever, or are frequently taking birth control pills, while women in their 50s and early 60s sometimes are beginning hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – all of which increase the risk of stroke,” Dr, Horvath notes. “More importantly, women in these age groups need to watch for the development of high blood pressure and diabetes, the two highest risk factors for stroke,” Dr. Horvath adds. “Even physiology, which dictates a larger waist-hip ratio (WHR) for women than men, puts us at greater risk, as studies have linked increases in tummy fat with elevated risk of stroke,” Dr. Horvath points out.
The key to prevention, Dr. Horvath explains, is education. “Women need first to understand that stroke is a serious threat, and then to educate themselves about their own personal risks.” When an assessment of basic factors like weight, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, WHR, smoking, pregnancy and hormone use reveals a high risk, Dr. Horvath recommends a visit to a medical doctor or specialist to discuss stroke prevention. “Patients need to know that the four key factors to preventing stroke are controlling blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar, and avoiding smoking,” she concludes. “It is important for women at risk to seek out and take advantage of the resources available to them in order to achieve these preventive measures.”
“Here at New York Methodist Hospital, we have been designated as a Stroke Center by the New York State Department of Health, which means a great deal to women at high risk of stroke,” Dr. Horvath explains, adding, “For example, we have a team of neurologists and other specialists on-call 24 hours a day, providing a full spectrum of preventive and treatment services for stroke.”
Individuals with symptoms may be referred for testing to determine whether there are blockages of the carotid arteries, the neck arteries that carry blood to the brain. New York Methodist Hospital’s Vascular Laboratory is fully equipped to provide these non-invasive studies. Advances in surgery and neuroradiology now offer highly effective treatments for narrowed carotid arteries that significantly reduce the risk of a stroke.
2. Know the Signs
Recognizing the signs of stroke is crucial for a positive outcome. Classic symptoms of stroke include numbness, tingling, loss of speech and partial paralysis. However, according to another study reported at this year’s Stroke Conference, women are 33% less likely to report one of these symptoms than their male counterparts. Instead, more women report such symptoms as fainting, shortness of breath, dizziness and sudden pain right before having a stroke. “It is critical for women to recognize that our stroke signs may differ from men’s, and to seek medical attention immediately – even if the symptoms don’t fully mesh with the usual signs of a stroke,” Dr. Horvath cautions. “Many patients – women and men alike – spend precious time ‘waiting out’ the signs of a stroke at home, thinking the symptoms may pass, but this can mean the difference between receiving lifesaving treatment or not,” she adds.
Once patients get to the Emergency Room, Dr. Horvath encourages them to communicate if possible their belief, based on risk factors and/or symptoms, that they may be having a stroke to the Emergency Room staff immediately upon arrival in order to maximize their chances of receiving the only drug approved by the FDA to treat and reverse the effects of a stroke in its earliest stages.
3. Get The Treatment Fast
“Time is brain,” says the American Stroke Association, based on the fact that the best chance for a stroke victim’s recovery lies within the first three hours of the onset of symptoms. It’s only during this timeframe that the clot-busting drug tPA – tissue plasminogen activator – can be administered safely before the risk of bleeding in the brain becomes too high. What’s more, the closer the patient is to the three-hour time limit, the less effective tPA will be. Although there are other treatment options once the three-hour window has closed, they are more invasive than tPA. “TPA dissolves a clot and restores blood flow to the brain, increasing the patient’s chances of survival, recovery and functional independence following a stroke,” Dr. Horvath notes. “Yet its limitations prevent it from helping all stroke victims, and so the research community is hard at work seeking out new therapies for stroke patients,” she concludes.
Susanna E. Horvath, MD is a leading medical expert in the area of stroke. Dr. Horvath is currently New York Methodist Hospital Stroke Program Director. Previously Assistant Clincal Professor at Long Island College Hospital Dr. Horvath is a member of The American Heart Association, The American Stroke Association on their Scientific Council, The New York City Stroke Council and the Epilepsy Foundation Greater New York Chapter Professional Advisory Committee. Dr. Horvath received her medical training at Semmelweiss Medical School in Budapest, Hungary and completed her medical training at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Dr. Horvath is Board Certified in Neurology and Vascular Neurology and has been actively involved in public education. More information about Dr. Horvath and about the stroke program at NYM can be found at http://www.nym.org.
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