PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
April 3, 2014

Mary E. O'Dowd, M.P.H.
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

Department of Health Hosts State Stroke Conference

Today, the Department of Health joined health care leaders from across the state to participate in the New Jersey Stroke Conference, which was held to educate health care professionals on standards of stroke management and treatment and current research findings.

"Stroke is an important public health challenge and despite advances in diagnosis, treatment and prevention, stroke remains the 4th leading cause of death in New Jersey and it is the number one cause of disability in our state," said New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd.

Department of Health Policy and Strategic Planning Director Cathy Bennett spoke about the impact of stroke on public health and the importance of stroke prevention. Markos Ezra, Ph.D. and his colleagues in the Department's Office of Health Care Quality Assessment presented a poster on Hospitalization Trends for Acute Stroke in New Jersey. This presentation is based on the Department's analysis of trends in volume of acute stroke hospitalizations, acute stroke-related mortality, and patterns of hospitalization by demographic characteristics of acute stroke patients.

"New Jersey's network of hospitals designated as stroke treatment centers provide rapid diagnosis and effective stroke care, giving patients the best chance of survival with the best outcomes," said Commissioner O'Dowd. "Family members are often first to recognize that something is wrong with a relative or loved one. How fast a patient arrives at the hospital and is properly diagnosed is critical to minimizing the damage that a stroke may cause."

According to the Department's stroke registry, more than 21,000 hospitalizations last year were due to stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack, which is often called a warning stroke. More than 1,100 of those patients died while in the hospital.

"Someone in New Jersey has a stroke every 30 minutes and 39 percent of stroke patients die or become severely disabled while hospitalized, said Policy and Strategic Planning Director Bennett. "Those who are 65 and older account for more than 70 percent of hospitalized stroke patients. However, Department analysis indicates there may be a demographic shift in the population of individuals with stroke, with the 40-64 year olds showing a faster proportionate increase in hospitalizations among both men and women."

"A stroke can happen to anyone at any time regardless of race, sex or age," said Commissioner O'Dowd. "The best way to prevent a stroke is to eat a balanced diet, exercise and get regular medical checkups and discuss risk and prevention strategies with your provider."

A stroke is the sudden death of some brain cells due to lack of oxygen when blood flow to the brain is impaired by blockage or rupture of an artery. Stroke is a public health problem that is largely preventable. The magnitude of this problem can be reduced by effective stroke prevention that includes a healthy diet and exercise. The greatest effect is achieved through public education of stroke risk factors, which consist of modification of lifestyle behaviors such as quitting smoking, reduced intake of salt, alcohol, and fat. There are several factors that increase the likelihood of having a stroke. Some of the modifiable risk factors for stroke include: 

  • Diet: A diet high in saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels. High sodium intake is also related to high blood pressure. High cholesterol and high blood pressure contribute to development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and to increased risk of stroke. In addition, high salt intake may also have a direct effect on stroke risk. Eating fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of stroke and eating more whole grain foods is also associated with a lower risk of stroke among women.
  • Obesity: Obesity increases the risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and stroke.
  • Raised Cholesterol: Raised cholesterol levels increase a person's relative stroke risk.
  • Lack of exercise: Even moderate physical activity can reduce the risk of stroke.
  • Alcohol: There is a relationship between heavy drinking and stroke.
  • High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke as it weakens the artery wall.
  • Atrial fibrillation: This is a type of irregular heart rhythm and represents an important risk factor for stroke. Because the heart does not beat properly, there is a risk of blood clots forming in a chamber of the heart, which may subsequently break up. Fragments of clot may then lodge in the brain, causing stroke.

Patients with more than one risk factor are exposed to an even greater risk for stroke.

The percentage of people who arrive at the hospital by private transportation-instead of calling 9-1-1--- is still too high. Fewer than 50 percent of stroke victims arrive in stroke centers by EMS. About 40 percent use private transportation instead of calling 9-1-1 as recommended.

Should you notice a family member, or any person with the following symptoms, please dial 9-1-1 immediately because every second counts:

  • 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.

People may also use the "FAST" test to recognize if a person may be suffering from a stroke.

F = FACE Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A = ARMS Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S = SPEECH Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?

T = TIME If you observe any of these signs (independently or together), call 9-1-1 immediately.

For more information on the Department of Health's Stroke programs visit:   

http://nj.gov/health/healthcarequality/stroke/reports.shtml