Pressure Points ... or, Under Pressure

April 30, 2001

Pressure Points ... or, Under Pressure

A condition without noticable physical symptoms, high blood pressure is called a silent threat. But keeping tabs on it can alleviate the risk of stroke.


Peter Daly checks his blood pressure

Above: Peter Daly of Hagerstown has his blood pressure checked while riding an exercise bike at Washington County Hospital.

Below: High blood pressure is the highest risk factor for stroke that you can change or affect. This piece of equipment measures pulse, blood pressure and oxygen saturation.

Blood pressure, pulse and oxygen saturation checking equipment

Types of stroke

Ischemic - a blood clot forms and blocks blood flow to the brain.

Hemorrhagic - an artery in the brain bursts, filling the area with blood and damaging the surrounding tissue

80 percent of all strokes are ischemic

Stroke risk factors



High blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol levels, obesity, physical inactivity and diabetes


Age - Risk increases for ages 55 and older, though Alison Serafini, case manager for ischemic stroke patients at Washington County Hospital, says she has had stroke patients in their 20s.

Gender - More than 60 percent of stroke victims are women.

Race/ethnicity - African-Americans and Hispanics are at greater risk.

Family historyPrior stroke

- Source: American Stroke Association

Warning signs of stroke

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Sudden trouble with vision in one or both eyes.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Sudden trouble with walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

- Source: American Stroke Association

It just happened.

Somewhere, someone just died from a stroke. In three minutes 18 seconds, someone else will.


Three minutes 17 ... 16 ... 11 ... 9 ...

There are many risk factors associated with stroke. Among the greatest - and most preventable - is hypertension.

"High blood pressure is the highest risk factor you can change or affect," says Alison Serafini, case manager for ischemic stroke patients at Washington County Hospital. "You need to have it checked on a regular basis."

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and Wednesday, May 2, is Stroke Awareness Day in Maryland. Across the state, blood pressure screenings will be given to draw attention to the role hypertension plays in stroke.

In Washington County, four screenings are planned: Next to the Wal-Mart snack bar in the Centre at Hagerstown, near the pharmacies of the Martin's Food Markets on Dual Highway and in Fountainhead Plaza, and at Washington County Free Library.

Two minutes 50 seconds ... 45 ... 39 ...

The American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, reports that 600,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year. But unlike heart attack, where people are conditioned to recognize warning signs and take appropriate measures to prevent them, the symptoms of stroke remain unfamiliar to many, AHA director of high risk and stroke programs Meg Schumacher says.

"We find again and again in surveys we take that people don't know the warning signs," Schumacher says. "There are some amazing new treatments for stroke, but you have to get to the hospital within three hours of the initial stroke symptoms for these new treatments to be effective.

"We still find people tend to ignore the warning signs and think they'll go away."

Pam Peitz, cardiac rehab coordinator at Washington County Hospital, gets frustrated by a lack of awareness for the dangers of high blood pressure. Since there are no symptoms, people need to be proactive to see if they have a problem. As early as your 20s, she recommends having blood pressure checked once a year. In your 40s, it should be checked up to four times annually.

"You don't even need to go to a doctor. You can go to a health fair," Peitz says. "So often, we don't see people until they've already had some type of event, a heart attack or stroke. ... If we could reach people earlier, I think it would make a big difference.

"And, again, I think it's because there are no symptoms. If people hurt, they go to the doctor. If they don't hurt, they don't go to the doctor."

Red flags for stroke include sudden numbness or weakness of muscles in the face, arm or leg, particularly on one side of the body; sudden confusion; sudden vision problems; sudden trouble walking or loss of balance; sudden severe headaches with no known cause.

Some or all of these can foreshadow the onset of stroke - the blockage of blood flow to the brain from a clogged or ruptured artery.

One minute ... 57 seconds ... 53 ... 52 ...

Risk factors are varied. Serafini says that some - including age, gender, race and family history - are uncontrollable. Others - high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and high cholesterol among them - can be tamed through changes in habits.

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