May 8, 2005
HOUSTON - Stroke is the number one cause of adult disability in the U.S., and the third leading cause of death. More than 700,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke each year. Every 45 seconds an American has a stroke; every three minutes someone dies of a stroke in this country; and 15-30 percent of stroke survivors have serious long-term disability. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that it hospitalizes 15,000 veterans with a stroke each year.
In response to this serious health issue, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) established a Stroke Center to ensure veterans receive timely evaluation with diagnostic procedures and appropriate therapies based on guidelines established by the Stroke Council of the American Heart Association.
The vital link in the operations of the MEDVAMC Stroke Center is the Acute Stroke Team. Lead by Thomas A. Kent, M.D., a stroke specialist and chief of the Neurology Care Line, the Acute Stroke Team is comprised of neurology residents and staff, a neurology nurse practitioner, emergency room physicians and nurses, radiologist and technicians, laboratory technicians, and medical consultants from neuroradiology, vascular surgery, cardiology and internal medicine. A specialized paging system was developed and key individuals on the team are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide immediate diagnosis and emergent treatment of veterans who are rushed to the Emergency Room with symptoms of a stroke.
One treatment option available at the MEDVAMC for veterans having an acute stroke is a medication called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). This is a “clot- busting” drug shown to be helpful in treating ischemic strokes caused by blood clots, but it must be given within the first three hours after the start of symptoms. This is why it is very important for people who think they’re having a stroke to seek help immediately.
While tPA can significantly reduce the effects of stroke and reduce permanent disability, there is a significant risk of bleeding. Before tPA is given to a patient, the Acute Stroke Team completes a thorough evaluation and diagnostic workup to make sure a patient meets all the criteria for tPA. This process takes time, but it is vital to avoid serious complications.
For patients who cannot receive tPA, the Acute Stroke Team will examine the appropriateness of several alternative stroke therapies under investigation at the MEDVAMC. The important thing for veterans to remember is the earlier they arrive at the Emergency Room the better.
MEDVAMC researchers are also investigating ways to help rehabilitate stroke survivors with non-fluent aphasia (difficulty producing speech). Volunteers eligible for the study must have suffered a left-hemisphere stroke at least one year ago and have difficulty speaking. Volunteers should have no history of neurological impairment prior to the stroke, and should be able to see and hear, with corrections, adequately. Veterans interested in participating in this study should contact Stephanie Schmadeke M.A., CCC-SLP at (713) 794-7493 or Lynn M. Maher, Ph.D., faculty and principal investigator of this study at (713) 794-7152.
All veterans and their family members should know the warning signs of stroke. If you experience stroke symptoms, immediately call 911.
Warning Signs of Stroke