Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Myth: Only the obviously unhealthy have strokes

 Now, it's trendy to be stroke aware - it happened when Bret Michaels had a warning stroke and later diagnosed with a patent foramen ovale - a hole between the upper chambers of his heart:
So what exactly is a patent foramen ovale, and how common is it? We spoke with Dr. Jonathan Tobis, clinical professor of cardiology and director of interventional cardiology at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who explained that this is a congenital condition. Fetuses normally have a hole, or flap, between the left and right atria of the heart that allows blood to flow in between, bypassing the lungs. Once the baby is born and taking in oxygen to the lungs, that flap seals up -- or it's supposed to. In about 20% to 25% of people it stays open, leaving a small to large hole that still allows some blood to flow between the atria.

Most people never know they have this condition. But it may cause strokes, although rarely, Tobis said: "A blood clot can form and travel a pathway from the right to the left atrium and up to the brain, causing a stroke." It’s typically corrected these days with a catheter-based method that "is sort of like closing a button hole," he said. "It's a relatively simple procedure done as an outpatient."

Tobis said people shouldn't go running to their doctors demanding an echocardiogram to see whether they have this condition, because most remain asymptomatic throughout their lives.

Michaels, 47, has had a few struggles in his life but on appearance, seems healthy enough. His story, though, can serve as a cautionary tale. He's not old. Not puny or weak-looking. Active. So was I. So have countless others.

So even if someone seems healthy, know and pay attention to the signs and symptoms of a stroke.

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