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 Annual 2007

Annual 2007


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Healthy Hearts

Understanding Strokes

    The numbers are staggering: According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 700,000 people have a stroke each year—500,000 first strokes and 200,000 recurrent strokes. Stroke also is the leading cause of long-term disability and the third-leading cause of death for Americans after heart disease and cancer.

    Alta Bates Summit Regional Stroke Center, based at the hospital’s Ashby campus in Berkeley, also reports some sobering numbers:
    • Every 45 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke.
    • Every 3 minutes, someone dies from a stroke.
    • Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability.

    Even more unsettling is the fact that in the East Bay cities of Oakland and Berkeley, the stroke death rate is higher than the national average and the rest of Alameda county, says Gloria Harmon, the administrative director of rehabilitation, stroke and orthopedic services for Alta Bates Summit Regional Medical Center.

    “We established the Regional Stroke Center here to address the needs of our community,” she says, adding that strokes require immediate action to lessen the aftereffects on the patient.

    A stroke happens when there is an interruption of blood flow to the brain, and strokes occur when either a blood clot blocks an artery or when a blood vessel breaks. An artery is a blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the body, and a blood vessel is a tube through which the blood moves through the body. When a stroke hits, brain cells begin to die and brain damage can occur.

    Although Alta Bates Summit has an excellent cardiovascular center, Harmon says that the hospital created the stroke center because both the immediate care and the rehabilitation needs of stroke victims are very different than those of heart attack victims. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain are lost, affecting speech, movement and memory. The level and type of damage depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much the brain is damaged.

    Stroke risk factors include high blood pressure, tobacco use, high cholesterol levels, obesity and physical inactivity. Some uncontrollable factors include age, gender, race, family history, diabetes or previous stroke. African Americans and Asians carry the highest risks for having a stroke, and largely because of the Bay Area’s demographics, Oakland and Berkeley have the highest incidents of stroke in Alameda County.

    The Regional Stroke Center is a designated stroke unit, in operation since mid-2005, and it adheres to stringent national criteria and guidelines for staffing, emergency care and rehabilitation services. Center services include critical and intermediate care, acute rehabilitation, outpatient rehabilitation services, support groups and community education. The Regional Stroke Center offers wide-ranging care from an interdisciplinary team of specialists with expertise in stroke care. A medical director oversees board-certified emergency medicine doctors, radiologists, interventional radiologists, neurosurgeons and physiatrists (physicians specially trained in rehabilitation). The team works closely with emergency medical services to ensure that treatment begins in the field.

    “Our staff has trained EMS to see the signs of stroke and to react appropriately in a quick time frame,” Harmon says. One of the differences between the Regional Stroke Center and other emergency rooms is the center’s ability to provide a special clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, a treatment that must be administered within three hours of the first appearance of symptoms. This is important because millions of brain cells die each minute a stroke is untreated, reports the American Heart Association, and immediate treatment can make a huge difference in survival and rehabilitation of the victim.

    There are ways to prevent a stroke and many organizations, including Alta Bates Summit Regional Stroke Center, the AHA and the National Stroke Organization are working hard to educate those who are at risk and to reduce the impact of stroke in the community. ✚ Edit Module