As I look out the window of the room in my home in which I have been working for over a year, it is hard to believe how green the trees have become! But Spring is truly here, and if it’s May, it must be Stroke Awareness Month. Over the past decade, NIH and its government, nonprofit, and hospital partners and scientists and health care providers around the country have worked to make people everywhere aware of the risks and dangers of stroke; help people lower their blood pressure and cholesterol; design and test better drugs and devices to treat heart rhythm disturbances and prevent the blood clots they cause; and implement methods for dissolving or pulling out clots in blood vessels in the brain. Accordingly, age-adjusted stroke rates and death rates from stroke have decreased over the past decade in both men and women and for all races and ethnicities. But lest we think we don’t have to worry about stroke anymore, we still have lots of work to do!
Stroke still accounts for approximately 1 out of every 20 deaths in the U.S. In addition, more than half of people over 65 years of age who have a stroke have their mobility reduced in the long-term as a result. How do we reduce stroke mortality and disability? Just as research reduced the incidence of and mortality rate from stroke, research holds the potential to reduce disability and suffering from stroke. NINDS created, funds, and guides StrokeNet, a clinical trial network that leverages the ideas and talents of doctors and scientists around the U.S. to prevent and improve the outcome of stroke. Our sister institute, NICHD, houses the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research and funds research aimed at identifying ways to increase the effectiveness of rehabilitation strategies for stroke and other conditions.
Although stroke outcomes have improved in all U.S. populations, there remain disparities by race and ethnicity in stroke incidence, health care access and quality, and outcomes. NINDS funds several registries dedicated to determination of the sociological, behavioral, biological, economic, and environmental contributors to these disparities. In addition, our Office of Global Health and Health Disparities guides and funds efforts to improve stroke incidence and outcomes in the US and around the world.
I’m proud to call your attention to the newly relaunched Mind Your Risks public health campaign, which the NINDS uses to raise awareness of the connection between high blood pressure, stroke, and dementia and is taking an increased focus on the disparities I just mentioned. NINDS Director Walter Koroshetz has more to say about this campaign and other NINDS efforts around stroke in his latest Director’s Message.
Stroke most often occurs in older adults. But young adults and even children can get strokes, too. In fact, some children have strokes before they are born and are found by four or five months of age to use one arm less than the other to reach for objects. The reasons for strokes in children are often very different from those in adults. For example, children can have problems in the way their blood vessels formed during development. Or they can have biochemical abnormalities that make their blood more likely than normal to clot. Or they can have disorders like sickle cell disease that make red blood cells clump and block blood flow in the brain. NINDS contributes to funding of the International Pediatric Stroke Study, a consortium aimed at understanding and preventing stroke in children.
So during this Stroke Awareness Month, remember that controlling your blood pressure and your cholesterol, seeing your doctor if you have heart palpitations, and, if you have had a stroke, taking the medications you were given to prevent another one go a long way towards keeping your brain healthy! And if you or someone you see has Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, or changing function over Time, act FAST – call 911, because those might be signs of a stroke.