Tahlequah Daily Press

May 28, 2010

Ounce of prevention

According to health officials, up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable by reducing cholesterol levels and controlling blood pressure.

Press Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — A stroke can happen to anyone, at any age, at any time.

While some people may associate strokes with aging, information from the National Stroke Association indicates the affliction doesn’t discriminate.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and according to Cherokee County Health Department officials, 795,000 Americans will have a stroke this year.

In Oklahoma, stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death. However, 80 percent of strokes can be prevented, and the protection is to understand personal risk and how to manage it.

There are two types of risk factors for stroke: controllable and uncontrollable. Controllable risk factors generally fall into to two categories, lifestyle risk factors and medical risk factors. Both types can be managed best by working with a doctor, who can prescribe medications and advise how to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Controllable risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use and smoking, alcohol use, physical inactivity and obesity.

Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

These conditions all increase the risk of heart disease and strokes, and all are related to diet and lifestyle.

Kathryn Strong, staff dietitian for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, believes early education is key to stroke prevention.

“As a dietitian, I think we should focus on decreasing our own risk factors for strokes – and reducing the risk of strokes for future generations,” said Strong. “Eating habits are learned at an early age, so it is absolutely crucial that we teach children healthy eating habits. We need to do all we can to fill school lunch lines with fruits and vegetables, and meals low in fat and cholesterol.”

In addition to teaching children about proper diet, the Cherokee County Health Department counsels clients on healthy eating, portion sizes and exercise.

Sheree Caldwell, advanced registered nurse practitioner at CCHD, often illustrates how fat is amassed by using “props,” including a 5-pound synthetic mass of simulated fat, along with test tubes showing how much fat can be found in favorite foods, like cheeseburgers and butter.

Uncontrollable risk factors for stroke include being over age 55, male, African-American, Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander, or having a family history of stroke or transient ischemic attack, according to the National Stroke Association.

The majority of those who survive a stroke will need some form of rehabilitation in their recovery process. The CCHD supports raising public awareness about important stroke facts to reduce the impact of stroke.

“Oklahomans need to be aware of stroke risk and have a strong knowledge of what stroke symptoms look like to get the treatment they or their loved ones need,” said CCHD Administrator Linda Axley. “We encourage the use of the ‘FAST’ method for recognizing symptoms.

The FAST method – face, arms, speech, time – is a tool to help people understand stroke symptoms.

If you suspect someone may be having a stroke, begin by looking at his face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

Next, ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Then, ask the person to repeat a simple phrase to check his speech. Does the speech sound slurred or strange? If you observe any of these signs, Axley recommends calling 911 for immediate assistance.

Ben Stevens, program director for Cherokee Elder Care, a community PACE program, said many clients in their care are stroke victims, and caregivers work diligently to reduce the risk of stroke in those who have not suffered one.

“Some participants have suffered strokes before, and we work with them as part of our rehabilitation program,” said Stevens. “Unfortunately, strokes are one of the things all of could face. Normally we address the risk by monitoring blood pressure and diet. We also gear our program to provide a reduced risk through diet and exercise.”