When you think of saving lives that would otherwise be lost to stroke, you probably imagine frightened but clear-thinking family members calling 911 or efficient ER doctors administering crucial medication just in the nick of time. Those things matter, of course–but a lifesaving approach that often is overlooked is the stroke prevention clinic.

Researchers recently compared the medical records of 16,468 patients who had experienced either an ischemic stroke (caused when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain) or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), often called a "ministroke." TIAs produce symptoms that are similar to stroke-sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, slurred speech, dizziness, vision problems—but usually last a much shorter time and often cause no permanent damage. However, the risk of having a full-blown and potentially fatal stroke within three months after a TIA is as high as 20%.

Study findings: TIA and ischemic stroke patients who were referred to stroke prevention clinics that aimed to identify and address risk factors were 26% less likely to die of stroke in the following 12 months than patients who did not attend such programs. These findings underscore the importance of secondary prevention for at-risk patients, researchers said.

Why it works: Many factors that place a person at increased risk for stroke are modifiable. When a patient learns which particular risk factors are putting her in danger and takes steps to control those, her risk is significantly reduced. A stroke prevention clinic is an outpatient program staffed by medical professionals trained to assess, diagnose and treat stroke risk factors. The treatment duration and exact services provided vary, but typically patients…

  • Have their blood monitored to measure how well any medications they take are working to control clotting, modulate blood pressure and/or regulate cholesterol.
  • Receive support to exercise more, lose weight, reduce stress and/or quit smoking, as needed.
  • Are assessed and treated as necessary for heart conditions, sleep apnea and other chronic conditions that contribute to stroke risk.

Not all hospitals have stroke prevention clinics–and not all doctors refer their TIA or stroke patients to such programs. If you have had a TIA or stroke, talk to your doctor about whether a stroke prevention clinic could benefit you... and ask your insurer whether your policy Covers the cost.

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