By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

0331-News-Stroke ER visits_BlogThe rate of emergency room visits for strokes is dropping among all adults, but especially among those over 55, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 2001 to 2011, the rate of emergency department visits for either an ischemic stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), often seen as a stroke precursor, dropped 35 percent for all adults ages 18 and older, according to the new CDC data. Patients ages 55 to 74 saw the greatest decrease — a 51 percent drop — in emergency department visits during that time.

“Overall, this is encouraging and it’s also consistent with the decrease in stroke mortality we’ve seen in the country,” said Larry Goldstein, M.D., director of the Duke Stroke Center and an American Heart Association/American Stroke Association volunteer.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of serious disability, according to the CDC.

Goldstein attributed the drop in stroke-related emergency room visits to improved prevention. He noted that the best way to prevent a stroke is by following key healthy living guidelines: no smoking, having a healthy diet, not being overweight, getting regular exercise and limiting alcohol consumption. Following those guidelines alone “is associated with about an 80 percent reduction in the risk of a first stroke,” he said.

In addition, Goldstein said a variety of medical factors may be contributing to lower rates. For example, individuals deemed at high risk for stroke could be more likely to be taking aspirin or using cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The statistics released Tuesday came from 2001-2011 data released by the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which also found:

  • A 10 percent uptick in hospital admission rates for people who go to the emergency room for strokes or TIA.
  • The use of advanced imaging techniques, either magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans, increased 39 percent among stroke and TIA patients in emergency rooms.

About 87 percent of all strokes are classified as ischemic strokes, which occur when a clot or some other type of obstruction prevents a blood vessel from delivering oxygen to the brain.

A TIA occurs when the blood flow blockage is temporary. People who experience TIAs have stroke-like symptoms, such as speech impairment or numbness on one side of the body, but only for a short period of time, even as brief as several minutes. But Goldstein said a TIA can be “a potential harbinger of having a major stroke in a relatively short period of time.”

He said one of the easiest ways for people to recall some of the key stroke warning signs is to remember the F.A.S.T. acronym: Face (droop), Arm (weakness), Speech (difficulty), Time (to call 911).

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