“Talk with Your Doctor” to Avoid a Stroke, UAMS Experts Say

By todd

Strokes are “brain attacks” in which a clot blocks a vessel or artery or a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain and causing brain cells to die.

A strong family history of strokes, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and smoking are risk factors for strokes, according to James W. Schmidley, M.D., a professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurology in the UAMS College of Medicine. Schmidley emphasizes that patients and their doctors should talk about whether they are in high-risk categories and take steps to improve their health.

Ted Lancaster, M.D., of Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, joins Schmidley in calling for Arkansans to talk with their doctors. ”Eighty percent of strokes are preventable,” Lancaster said. Too many Arkansans wait until they are sick to see a doctor, he said. “Please become involved in preventive health care!” he said.

Schmidley and Lancaster are speaking out on behalf of the National Stroke Association, which is promoting better prevention of strokes in the “Stroke Belt” states that include Arkansas. Lancaster is the state chairman for the “Ask the Doctor” campaign of the National Stroke Association.

Sandra Murray of UAMS knows firsthand the importance of stroke prevention. Murray, a registration clerk in the UAMS Outpatient Center, suffered a TIA, or transient ischemic attack, when she was just 16, and another in her early 20s. At the time, no one explained to her that the temporary numbness, loss of vision, trouble walking, and other symptoms were the result of a temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain – and a warning sign of future strokes. In fact, one-third of all persons who experience TIAs will go on to have actual strokes, according to the National Stroke Association.

Murray had a major stroke at the young age of 34. Today, she tells others, “Young people can have strokes. It happened to me.” She explains to families and friends of stroke victims that the sudden traumatic brain injury can leave the victim depressed or angry. “One day you were normal and the next day you weren’t. I was extremely angry.”

Jim Christopher of Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, is another stroke survivor with advice for Arkansans: If you have a stroke, don’t give up.

”I was thin; I was walking the hills two, three, or four miles a day – and yet this happened to me. My eye began to hurt and I fell to my knees. That was the beginning,” he said.

Like Murray, Christopher has some lingering problems with the use of the leg and arm on one side of his body. But he has worked faithfully in physical therapy. “I had to learn to walk again. It isn’t easy. But I tell people, ‘Don’t stop your physical fitness program.’”

Gerald A. Dienel, Ph.D., of the Department of Neurology in the UAMS College of Medicine, has studied the effects of stroke and other neurological conditions on the brain since 1978. His early research findings showed that disruption of calcium homeostasis coincides with the progression of ischemic brain damage and stimulated many studies of the roles of calcium in brain cell death. Dienel has research funding from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke. His current research at UAMS focuses on nutritional and bioenergetic aspects of brain work, neuron-astrocyte interactions in health and disease, and brain imaging.

“With more research, we hope to one day be able to image in real time the contributions of different cell types to brain activity so therapeutic treatments can be initiated at the onset of disease instead of after irreversible damage has occurred,” Dienel explains.