Stroke: The other cardiovascular disease

Paula Wolfson,

WASHINGTON – There is a wonder drug for stroke, and few people know about it.

For those lucky enough to make it to the hospital in time, this medication can reverse or prevent damage from a stroke while its happening. The problem is that many people wait too long to call 911.

“There is a clot busting medication called TPA that is the only FDA-approved treatment for stroke. It is dependent on people getting to the hospital very early and being able to be treated very early,” said Dr. Amie Hsia, medical director of the Washington Hospital Center Stroke Center.

Hsia is part of a research team conducting a National Institutes of Health study on stroke at Washington Hospital Center and Suburban Hospital. The goal is to expand the narrow window for treatment available.

Currently, TPA must be administered no more than three to four and a half hours after the onset of stroke symptoms, but most patients receive the medication too late. The problem is acute across the board, and especially for women, according to Hsia.

“I think the attention has been focused more on men traditionally in terms of people at risk for heart disease and stroke,” she said.

There is a misconception that only senior citizens have strokes, prompting some to ignore crucial symptoms. It is important to remember that “stroke is a disease for all ages,” Hsia said.

Like its cousin — heart disease — stroke is caused by damaged blood vessels. In this case, it is the vessels that feed blood to the brain.

The two also share risk factors. Obesity, smoking and high blood pressure are among the most common.

Too many women are not connecting the dots, perhaps because the risk factors are easy to ignore, Hsia said.

“It doesn’t hurt when you have high blood pressure every day, and it doesn’t hurt, typically, at the time you even suffer a stroke,” she says.

There are distinctive stroke symptoms to watch out for:

  • Sudden onset of weakness or numbness;
  • Sudden difficulty communicating or seeing;
  • Feeling unsteady when walking;
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

“Call 911 if you suspect a stroke,” said Hsia.

“Stroke is an emergency, it can be treated.”

Editor’s Note: Throughout February, WTOP will be focusing on women’s heart health, with information on prevention, treatment and reasons for hope. We also will bring you the incredible stories of survivors from the region — a sisterhood of women celebrating a second chance at life with a commitment to help others.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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