- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2000

Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability and the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Still, according to a local survey, most people wouldn't recognize the signs of a stroke if they were having one.

Only 13 percent of 401 people questioned by the American Heart Association in January could iden-tify even one warning sign of stroke without assistance. Nearly a third (32 percent) did not identify headache, a common sign, as a warning symptom. Almost half (46 percent) incorrectly identified chest pain as a warning sign of stroke.

These numbers indicate that the public needs more information about strokes, says Dr. Michael Shuster, vice chairman of the department of emergency me-dicine at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. Inova Health Services and the American Heart Asso-ciation teamed up recently to form Operation Stroke 911, a public-service campaign to provide such information.

"I was amazed by what we found in the survey," Dr. Shuster says. "If 87 percent of people don't even know the signs of stroke, how can we expect them to get help?"

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel bringing oxygen and nu-trients to the brain bursts or is clogged by a blood clot or other particle. When the blood flow is interrupted, the brain is deprived of oxygen. Nerve cells in the affected areas of the brain can't function, and they die within minutes. A stroke victim can suffer paralysis, loss of speech, even death.

Signs of a stroke include:

• Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arms 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.

• Sudden, severe headaches with no known cause.

It is crucial that a person who suspects he or she is having a stroke get to a hospital immediately, says Dr. John Cochran, a neurologist at Inova Alexandria Hospital. New treatments, including the admin-istration of t-PAs, or "clot-buster" drugs, can save a person's life if that person gets to the hospital within three hours of the initial symptoms, he says.

"We want people to learn that when someone is having a stroke, timing is critical, and they need to call 911 immediately," Dr. Cochran says. "Seconds count, because in some cases, stroke victims are eligible to receive clot-dissolving drugs such as t-PA, which can reduce or reverse the effects of stroke. However, these drugs can only be administered if the patient reaches the hospital within three hours of the onset of stroke symptoms."

Stressing the importance of seeking help in a hurry is one of the main goals of Operation Stroke 911 because 22 percent of survey respondents said they might wait and see how they felt before calling a doctor. An additional 17 percent did not know that calling 911 would give them access to emergency medical services.

In the other part of the cam-paign, Inova will assess its procedures for taking care of stroke patients, set systemwide standards of care and make necessary changes if they will result in saving more patients, Dr. Shuster says.

The American Heart Association estimates that someone suffers stroke every 53 seconds and someone dies from a stroke every 3.3 minutes. About $51.3 billion will be spent this year on expenses for stroke victims.

In 1999, Inova Health Systems treated 1,514 inpatient stroke cases, slightly more than half the strokes in Northern Virginia.

Check it out

Free cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose and stroke-risk assessments will be offered at the following locations as part of the American Heart Association and Inova Health System's Operation Stroke campaign. For more information or to verify times, call 703/208-2552.

• Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Ebenezer Baptist Church, 209 Washington St., Occoquan, Va.

• June 17, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Beulah Baptist Church, 5820 Dix St. NE, Washington.

• June 17, 9 a.m. to noon, Agape Embassy Ministries, 5775 Bonclay Drive, Alexandria.

• June 17, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Shiloh Baptist Church, 8801 Ardmore Ardwick Road, Landover.

• June 24, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Cornerstone Baptist Church, 10675 SW Crain Highway, Upper Marlboro.

• June 25, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., First Baptist Church of Merryfield, 8122 Ransell Road, Merrifield.

• Every Wednesday, 10 to 11 a.m. Free blood pressure screening, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital lobby, 2501 Parkers Lane, south of Alexandria. No appointment necessary.

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