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January 2009 Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource Highlights Stroke Symptoms, Personal Health Records and Volunteering

ROCHESTER, Minn., Jan. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Here are highlights from the January issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource. You may cite this publication as often as you wish. Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource attribution is required. Reprinting is allowed for a fee. Include the following subscription information as your editorial policies permit: Visit or call toll-free for subscription information, 800-876-8633, extension 9751.

To Prevent Death or Disability, Seek immediate care when stroke symptoms occur

Recognizing the symptoms of stroke and seeking immediate treatment could save your life. What's immediate? Ideally, treatment for ischemic stroke -- the most common type -- begins within three hours of symptom onset, says Irene Meissner, M.D., Mayo Clinic neurologist, in the January issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource.

Ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is suddenly interrupted by a blockage in a blood vessel or artery. Less common, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel breaks, causing bleeding on the brain. Either can be deadly or disabling. In the United States, stroke is the third-leading cause of death in women and the fourth-leading cause in men. And, stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability.

Typically stroke warning signs occur suddenly and may include painless weakness in an arm or leg, numbness or weakness of the face or one side of the body, slurring of the speech or language difficulty, and trouble seeing with one or both eyes. In addition, some people may get dizzy or feel unsteady. A sudden, severe or unusual headache -- sometimes described as your worst headache ever -- also can be a symptom.

In some cases, these symptoms go away without treatment.

"If you are having severe pain, it is human nature to make a beeline for the emergency room," says Dr. Meissner. "But it's important not to ignore sudden or unusual symptoms that seem to get better or that aren't painful."

In years past, treatment options for stroke were limited. That's changed. Thrombolytic drugs, also known as clot busters, are used to treat ischemic stroke and reduce the risk of permanent brain damage that can cause paralysis or problems with thinking or speaking. The sooner the medication is started, the better the outcome.

Of course, taking steps to avoid a stroke is prudent. High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are big risk factors for stroke. Other risk factors include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, family history, older age and smoking.

Personal Health Records -- A More Efficient Way to Manage Health Information

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- The days of scrambling to recall or find immunization dates or medication names and doses may be numbered. An electronic personal health record is likely to replace those handwritten notes and scattered papers.

The January issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource discusses this new way to manage personal health information, most often on the Internet.

A basic personal health record includes the patient's name and date of birth, emergency contacts, names and contact information for care providers, insurance information, a list of past illnesses and surgical procedures, current medications and dates they were prescribed, allergies, results and dates of recent tests or doctor visits, immunization records, family history of illnesses or hereditary conditions, and other health information such as a living will or advanced directives.

Personal health records offer many potential benefits, including quick access to information that could be a lifesaver in an emergency situation. But the technology is still evolving, and many challenges are yet to be worked out.

Among those challenges are where the records will be stored and how they will be accessed and updated. Many of today's personal health records are connected to existing electronic medical records from a single health care provider or insurer. The health care provider may be able to upload data from devices that measure heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose or peak airway flow. Increasingly, medical providers are offering patients password-protected access to test results and other data in the individual's medical record. One drawback is that providers from other health care organizations may not be able to access this type of personal health record.

Other personal health records are designed to stand alone, giving the patient more control and responsibility over what's included. This approach may allow multiple parties to access and update the information. For example, the patient can record exercise and diet progress, a pharmacist can input prescription information, and a doctor can add test results.

However, various providers might not use the same information format, perhaps hindering efforts to keep health records up-to-date and well organized. The patient has the responsibility to ensure that the information is current and accurate.

Privacy is another concern. Health information stored on a stand-alone Web site may not be as secure as data stored by a health care system, which must comply with privacy rules mandated by the federal government's Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Patients interested in learning more about a personal health record should start by investigating what's available through primary health care providers or insurers. If no template is available, patients can request electronic or written records to start a stand-alone personal record.

Volunteer: It's Good For You

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Older people who volunteer have lower rates of heart disease and live longer than peers who don't volunteer, according to the January issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource.

Volunteering can boost mental health; it's a great way to stay connected socially; and those social connections help buffer stress and get a person through hard times. Women tend to be more adept at maintaining social ties, and volunteer activities can further strengthen a woman's social network. Also, volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and vitality, key elements in helping stave off the depression that sometimes accompanies aging and isolation.

To realize the health benefits of volunteering, a commitment of 40 to 100 hours a year is needed, studies have shown. That equates to a couple of hours a week.

Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource offers these tips to get started:

Determine your interests: Think about what's enjoyable and makes you happy. Or focus on an issue that you care deeply about. Consider skills you've developed over the years and can share, or skills you'd like to learn.

Find organizations and opportunities: Do online research, check community bulletin boards or visit the local library to find volunteer opportunities. Places that often need help include hospitals, schools, libraries, food banks, religious organizations, parks, environmental programs, youth groups, humane societies, historic sites and arts organizations. Consider reaching beyond your local community to participate in a volunteer vacation in other states or abroad.

Decide on how much time you can offer: Opportunities range from getting involved in short-term events such as fundraising walks or bicycle rides to longer-term, ongoing activities such as tutoring.

Make your move: Phone or visit the organization you're interested in to determine if the mutual fit is a good one. If it's not, keep looking. Many organizations would welcome the skills and wisdom you can share.

Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource is published monthly to help women enjoy healthier, more productive lives. Revenue from subscriptions is used to support medical research at Mayo Clinic. To subscribe, please call 800-876-8633, extension 9751, or visit

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