Friday, October 5, 2007

Know the signs and symptoms of a stroke

Every 45 seconds, someone in the United States experiences a stroke. Yet, despite being the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in this country, fewer than one in five Americans can recognize a symptom of a stroke. In addition, some people still believe that this condition is simply a "stroke of fate," not realizing that stroke is preventable and treatable.

National Stroke Association is urging people to take charge of their health by knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke, asking their doctors about stroke prevention and adopting healthy lifestyle habits. A good first step is to have your blood pressure checked. High blood pressure is the number one cause of stroke. Nearly 60 million Americans - 29 million women - have high blood pressure, and almost a third do not even know it.

While a stroke can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender or race – women are uniquely impacted. Consider these facts:

Twice as many women die from stroke than from breast cancer every year.
More women than men die from stroke.
One half of all African American women will die from stroke or heart disease.
Women outnumber men as caregivers to stroke survivors.
4 out of 5 American families will be touched by stroke.
A stroke, or "brain attack," occurs when blood and oxygen flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or a broken blood vessel. This kills brain cells in the immediate area, often causing physical and emotional disabilities including speech problems, memory loss and paralysis.

In addition to high blood pressure, there are several things that can contribute or increase a person’s risk for stroke including cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity and family history. Women have additional risk factors to consider such as pregnancy and using hormone replacement therapy to treat menopause, all of which can increase stroke risk.

But the good news is that stroke is one of the most preventable of all life-threatening health problems, provided you pay proper attention to lifestyle and medical risk factors. Treatment exists to help minimize the effects of a stroke, however it must be given within 3 hours of the first symptom. So it is important for people to be able to recognize the symptoms of stroke and seek emergency medical attention. Recognizing stroke symptoms can be easy by learning to think F.A.S.T.

F=Face Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A=Arms Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S=Speech Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T=Time If you observe any of these signs, then it’s time to call 9-1-1.

Studies show that stroke patients who arrive at the hospital by ambulance receive quicker treatment than those who arrive by their own means. But where are the best hospitals to go to for the treatment of stroke? There are numerous hospitals across the country that have been certified as stroke centers, and specialize in the treatment of stroke. This designation goes to hospitals that make exceptional efforts to foster better outcomes for stroke care, and whose quality of care is effectively managed to meet the unique and specialized needs of stroke patients. To find a stroke center in your area please visit and click on the emergency stroke center locations.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Light wine intake = longer life expectancy in men

Drinking a little alcohol every day, especially wine, may be associated with an increase in life expectancy. That’s the conclusion of Dutch researchers who reported the findings of their study today at the American Heart Association’s 47th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.

The researchers found that a light intake of alcohol (on average less than one glass per day) was associated with a lower rate of cardiovascular death and death from all causes. When compared to spirits and beer, consumption of small amounts of wine, about a half a glass a day, was associated with the lowest levels of all-cause and cardiovascular deaths.

"Our study showed that long-term, light alcohol intake among middle-aged men was associated not only with lower cardiovascular and all-cause death risk, but also with longer life expectancy at age 50," said Martinette T. Streppel, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student in the Division of Human Nutrition at Wageningen University and National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in Bilthoven, The Netherlands. "Furthermore, long-term light wine consumption is associated with a further protective effect when compared to that of light-to-moderate alcohol intake of other types."

Previous studies have shown that light to moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular death. However, it remained unclear whether a specific beverage was associated with more benefit and whether the use of long-term alcohol consumption was associated with increased life expectancy. Studies such as this cannot definitively show whether the agent being studied has a causal effect on health.

The Netherlands study — called the Zutphen Study — involved a cohort of 1,373 men born between 1900 and 1920 who were surveyed in detail about alcohol consumption seven times over 40 years. The participants, all from Zutphen, an industrial town in the eastern part of the Netherlands, were followed until death or until the final survey taken among survivors in mid-2000. The surveys included drinking habits, dietary habits, body mass index, smoking habits and the prevalence of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer. The statistics on alcohol consumption were adjusted to account for other risk factors.

The researchers found that long-term, light alcohol intake of less than or equal to 20 grams per day (1 glass of alcoholic beverage contains 10 grams of alcohol, 1 ounce = ~30 mL of alcoholic beverage) compared to no alcohol intake was associated with a 36 percent lower relative risk of all-cause death and a 34 lower relative risk of cardiovascular death. The average long-term daily intake of the men throughout the 40-year study was six grams based on any alcohol intake of more than zero and up to 20 grams. The long-term average intake of six grams of alcohol is equal to one four-ounce beer, one two-ounce glass of wine or one one-ounce glass of spirits, daily.

When the researchers looked independently at wine consumption, the associated risk reduction was greater. Participants who drank on average half a glass, or 1.5 ounces, of wine per day, over a long period, had a 40 percent lower rate of all-cause death and a 48 percent lower incidence of cardiovascular death, compared to the non-wine drinkers.

Researchers said life expectancy was 3.8 years higher in those men who drank wine compared to those who did not drink alcoholic beverages. Life expectancy of wine users was more than two years longer than users of other alcoholic beverages. Men with a long-term alcohol intake less than or equal to 20 grams per day had a 1.6-year-higher life expectancy, compared to those who consumed no alcohol.

Most of the previous studies assessed alcohol intake at baseline; however, in this study researchers collected detailed information seven times over 40 years. "Consumption patterns usually change during life," Streppel said. "This enabled us to study the effects of long-term alcohol intake on mortality." Researchers found that the number of alcohol users nearly doubled from 45 percent in 1960 to 85 percent in the 2000 survey. Average alcohol consumption rose and then fell at various points during the study. Users’ consumption was eight grams a day in 1960, then survivors’ consumption was 18 grams a day in 1985, dropping to 13 grams per day in 2000. The percentage of wine users increased during follow-up from 2 percent in 1960 to more than 40 percent among the survivors in 2000. "One can speculate that a protective effect of light alcohol intake could be due to an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or to a reduction in blood clotting, due to an inhibition of platelet aggregation," Streppel said.

Furthermore, red wine consumption may have an additional health benefit because the polyphenolic compounds contained in wine have been seen in animal to interfere with the formation, progression and rupture of atherosclerotic plaques — the build-up of fatty tissue in the arteries that can result in stroke or heart attack.

"Those people who already consume alcoholic beverages should do so lightly (1 to 2 glasses per day) and preferably drink wine," Streppel said. "The cardio-protective effects of alcohol and wine only held up for light alcohol consumption in middle-aged men. Heavy alcohol consumption may cause accidents and diseases such as cancer and cirrhosis of the liver, even though this was not observed in our study. Since alcohol consumption can be addictive, starting to drink alcohol because of its positive health benefits is not advised."

How alcohol or wine might affect cardiovascular risk merits further research, but right now the American Heart Association does not recommend beginning to drink wine or any other form of alcohol to gain these potential benefits. The association does recommend that to reduce your risk you should talk to your doctor about lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure, controlling your weight, getting enough physical activity and following a healthy diet and quit smoking, if you smoke. There is no scientific proof that drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverage can replace these conventional measures.