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Stroke Dropping as Cause of Death – ND Leads the Way

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January 16, 2012

FARGO, N.D. - North Dakota is among the states leading the way in making sure stroke victims are getting the fastest and best treatment possible. Stroke is still one of the leading causes of death in the nation, but continues to slide down the rankings, and the American Heart Association credits North Dakota as part of that improvement.

That's because the state has 80 percent of its hospitals in what's called a Stroke Registry, and Beth Ashmore, senior director of ambulatory services with the Essentia Health organization, says that's the highest rate in the nation.

"All six of the tertiary hospitals in North Dakota, and 26 out of the 36 critical-access hospitals, actively share and participate in the Stroke Registry."

She says hospitals in the program are provided with proven treatment plans, and outcomes are tracked so they can continue to improve treatment for stroke victims.

Ashmore says support of the North Dakota Legislature for the stroke registry and task force has been critical to the program's success since it began in 2009.

She adds that one component of that success is giving hospitals treatment guidelines to improve the continuity and standards of care for stroke victims.

"And it also tracks the performance. Hospitals can then identify areas for process redesign and what needs to be worked on to continually improve the care."

Another focus is educating the public about the warning signs of a stroke. They include confusion or dizziness, trouble speaking or seeing, and sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg.

Ashmore says if you have these symptoms or see them in another person, call 911, because with a stroke, time is critical.

"It's really a blood vessel that's being blocked by a clot, so really, fast diagnosis and treatment can make the difference between returning to a life of independence with minimal side effects, versus one of disability."

Ashmore says it's important to note the time that symptoms begin, because a key clot-busting drug called TPA can only be administered generally in the first three or four hours after onset.

The other key focus of the Stroke Registry is to let people know there are many ways to reduce stroke risk.

"Manage and control your blood pressure. You really want to know your cholesterol numbers. Manage your diabetes. Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke. Be active for 30 minutes a day, and really eat healthy. Maintain a healthy weight, looking at aiming for a diet with less than a 1500 milligrams of sodium per day."

Nationally, stroke has dropped from third to fourth as the leading cause of death, while in North Dakota, it has dropped to sixth.

More information is at www.ndhealth.gov

John Michaelson, Public News Service - ND