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Are you stroke smart?

MY VIEW • Spotting a stroke is good; preventing one is better

The month of May brings thoughts of fair skies, sunshine, a celebration of life É and stroke. May is designated as National Stroke Awareness Month, which gives me, a stroke doctor, a vehicle by which to educate people about the disease.

The message is particularly relevant to Oregonians, as recent statistics rank Oregon as having the country's fifth-highest stroke death rate.

In the United States, stroke is the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer, and it's the leading cause of adult disability. It strikes nearly 750,000 Americans each year and causes about 170,000 deaths.

The good news is that there is much we can do to prevent stroke and stroke disability.

Often called a 'brain attack,' a stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, causing brain tissue to die. More than 80 percent of all strokes are classified as ischemic, caused by clots blocking blood supply to the brain, while the rest Ñ hemorrhagic strokes Ñ result from ruptured blood vessels that cause bleeding in the brain.

Every minute counts

When a stroke occurs, 'time is brain' because there is a limited window of time in which injured brain tissue can be saved Ñ about three hours after symptoms begin. Unfortunately, most patients don't arrive at the hospital in time for acute treatment Ñ national data indicates that fewer than 5 percent of stroke patients arrive in time to receive treatment that could possibly reverse the effects of their strokes.

The low percentage of stroke patients getting early treatment can be largely attributed to a lack of awareness of stroke warning signs. The sooner a person recognizes the following warning signs, and the sooner a call is placed to 911, the better the chance of recovery:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

With the help of your health care provider, you can learn how to manage your blood pressure, stop smoking, keep cholesterol levels within healthy limits, maintain a healthy body weight, get physically active and keep diabetes under control, since such steps will greatly reduce the risk of stroke.

One of the best Ñ and easiest Ñ forms of exercise is walking, an activity that helps to keep all of the stroke risk factors I've outlined in check, and one that can be done by almost anyone, no matter their age.

Given Portland's recent accolades by Prevention magazine as being the country's best city for walking, why not take in our city's beautiful scenery at the same time you're protecting yourself from stroke? Some fun, upcoming local walking opportunities include:

• 2006 Portland Metro Heart Walk hosted by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, a 5k walk and 1k survivor route, festivities begin at 8:30 a.m., walks at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the World Trade Center, Southwest First Avenue and Salmon Street.

• 2006 Willamette Valley Relay hosted by Wonders of Walking, a Portland-based organization that promotes walking for fitness and pleasure, considered the longest walking event in the Pacific Northwest at 135 miles, starting in Champoeg State Park, St. Paul, and going to Eugene, July 14 and July 15.

You are what you eat

Research shows that the food you eat affects your overall health, and that a healthy diet can lower high cholesterol, lower high blood pressure, reduce excess body weight, and reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes.

The American Stroke Association is putting together the new, magazine-style 'Soul Food Cookbook,' soon to be available at grocery stores and featuring more than 40 easy-to-follow recipes that are both good and good for you.

Additional opportunities to learn about stroke and stroke prevention are free community forums Providence is hosting Ñ at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 23, in Providence Portland Medical Center's Ampitheater, 4805 N.E. Glisan St., and at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 30, in Souther Auditorium at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, 9205 S.W. Barnes Road.

A stroke changes your life and the lives of those around you, potentially robbing you of your independence and forcing you to rely on family and friends. My hope is to educate people about the steps they can take to prevent stroke or to be able to recognize the warning signs of a stroke and immediately call 911. Through education and awareness, we can reverse Oregon's stroke statistics.

Ted Lowenkopf is medical director of the Providence Stroke Center, based at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Southwest Portland.