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May’s the Month to Stroke-Proof Washington

May 4, 2009

Seattle, WA – During a typical month in Washington, more than a thousand people suffer strokes, and almost 300 of them die. May is "Stroke Awareness Month," an annual reminder to get to the hospital immediately with stroke symptoms.

A recent survey showed that less than three percent of stroke victims around the state got the clot-busting drug known as TPA. Dr. Bill Likosky, director of the Stroke Program for Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, says it's not something people can carry around with them – they need to go to an emergency room.

"It's a wonderful medicine, but it has to be given by vein and it has to be given within a certain time frame after the onset of symptoms. It reduces the severity of stroke, and it may even reverse the symptoms of stroke in a portion of people who have the opportunity to get it."

With regard to strokes, Washington has something in common with the Southwestern states. They're all part of what doctors call the "Stroke Belt," according to Dr. Likosky.

"Strangely, it also affects the Northwest, and we’re not sure why that is so. So, we have a higher mortality rate than many other parts of the country. In fact, our state is about 13th, which makes it, I think, much more of a public health problem here than it is in other parts of the country."

He says toughing it out – figuring the symptoms will go away if you just take it easy – is only wasting valuable time.

"If you or somebody you know has a sudden onset of difficulty with speech, weakness of an arm or leg, difficulty walking, or the worst headache of your life, call 911. It could save your life. And I think there's a lot of truth in that."

Likosky says the same advice for preventing heart attacks works for strokes too: eat a healthy low-fat diet, exercise regularly, and don't smoke.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA