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Mar 17, 2017

Stroke Survivors Largely Unaware of Their Heart Risks

Despite nurse-led education, knowledge of risk factors remains low among stroke survivors.

One-third of stroke survivors can’t name a single factor associated with risk for future heart events, according to a recent study that tested a nurse-led educational program in stroke patients.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, this study looked at medical knowledge among patients with a history of stroke. The goal was to assess whether a focused educational program could help stroke survivors reduce their cardiovascular risk, since stroke significantly increases risk for future heart events.

A total of 268 Australian patients participated in the study, all of which were hospitalized for stroke between 2010 and 2013. Half of patients were assigned to usual care, while the other half received additional education on risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and lack of physical activity. Education included three home visits from nurses, along with a tailored plan to help address existing cardiovascular risk factors.

Two years later, researchers then assessed participants’ knowledge about their health and risk factors for stroke.

Unfortunately, more than one-third of patients were unable to name any risk factor for stroke by the end of the study. Among those that were able to name a risk factor, stress was the most commonly identified risk factor associated with stroke. Authors also note that at the start of the study, only 22% of patients with high blood pressure, 11% with high cholesterol and 6% with diabetes knew these conditions increased risk for stroke.

The good news, however, is that the nurse-led program improved participants’ knowledge by 26%. Analysis also showed that better health was associated with better knowledge, while older age and chronic health conditions were associated with poorer knowledge.

Despite education improving medical knowledge in this study, experts are alarmed by how poor knowledge of risk factors is among stroke survivors. Factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are leading causes of stroke, and two-thirds of Americans have at least one of these risk factors. Addressing risk factors in patients with a history of stroke is especially important, as stroke significantly increases risk for future events. However, this study shows few patients are aware of these risk factors, even after receiving thorough education on the issue. As a result, authors highlight the need for new and more effective strategies that help educate and reduce cardiovascular risk among patients with a history of stroke.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is stroke?

  • Stroke occurs when there is an interruption of the blood supply to the brain. The two types of stroke include ischemic stroke, where the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when blood vessels rupture and leak blood into the brain. Symptoms of both types of stroke include sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble with vision, loss of balance or coordination, and severe headache with no known cause. It is crucial that you call 911 immediately upon experiencing any of these symptoms.

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