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Stroke Smart Magazine

July/August 2007

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Common Genetic Defect Increases Stroke Risk
A new study shows that people with a common genetic mutation may have more than double the risk of stroke. This particular gene, called hemochromatosis (HHC), causes an overload of iron in the blood, meaning the body continues to absorb iron after it has reached its healthy limit. HHC, which eventually causes cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer and heart failure, is now linked to stroke.

Researchers in Europe studied 9,200 people with HHC over a 24-year period, 393 of whom had a stroke.

This type of gene has been associated with brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Further research is needed to see why this defect may raise risk of stroke.

The symptoms of HHC are often vague, such as fatigue, aching joints or a bronze tinge to the skin. But the treatment may be as simple as donating blood regularly to remove extra iron from the body. If your family has a history of HHC, ask your doctor for a screening.



Stroke Risk Higher in People with No Health Insurance
Researchers found that Americans without health insurance may have an increased risk of stroke. According to the 2005 U.S. Census report, 44.8 million people (15.3 percent of the U.S. population) are without health insurance. 

People without health insurance are more likely to forego routine physical exams and to be unaware of medical issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels all of which can increase stroke risk.

"We believe that our findings underscore the great importance of medical insurance in maintaining the health of the population," study lead author Dr. Angela Fowler-Brown said. "As medical science continues to advance, we fear that the health disparities between those who have access to medical care through insurance and those who do not may continue to grow."



Illegal Drugs and Stroke Risk
No matter what your condition or family history is, if you use cocaine or speed, your odds for stroke are greatly increased.

Cocaine, methamphetamines, and other stimulants (speed) cause changes in blood flow to the brain and can cause stroke in two ways. First, stimulant drugs increase blood pressure. These drugs also have a direct effect on the vessel walls, and the extra pressure can cause them to rupture and leak blood into the brain. This is known as a hemorrhagic stroke. Second, stimulant drugs narrow the blood vessels. This can cut off blood flow to parts of the brain and kill brain tissue, producing what is known as an ischemic stroke.

More than 8,300 stroke patients (ages 18 to 44) were examined between 2000 and 2003. Data showed that young people who abuse amphetamines are five times more likely to have a stroke than non-abusers. Cocaine abusers are twice as likely to have a stroke. 

“This is the first study large enough to confirm the link that meth kills by causing strokes. We hope that our findings will lead to getting the word out to young people who are tempted to use meth, explaining that the drug is extremely dangerous and can kill them,” said Dr. Robert Haley, the study’s senior author.




Narrowing of the Arteries Linked to Stroke and Heart Attack
Research shows that patients who have arterial disease have a high risk of stroke and heart attack.

Narrowing of the arteries - which includes atherothrombosis and peripheral arterial disease (PAD) - puts the heart and brain at risk for blood clots which trigger strokes and heart attacks. Atherothrombosis causes clogged arteries in the heart, brain or legs and is responsible for more than 28% of deaths worldwide.  PAD is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce the blood flow to limbs, most commonly the legs.

Doctors in Paris studied 68,236 patients with arterial disease over the course of a year, in 44 countries. One in seven had either a stroke or heart attack during this time. The risk of stroke or heart attack increased with the extent of the arterial disease and with any other risk factors such as high blood pressure.

Researchers say it is important to do whatever is needed to prevent and treat arterial disease.




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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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