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In this episode of the Sarasota Neurology Podcast, Dr. Kassicieh, a recognized expert in stroke prevention, provides an overview of  current techniques for preventing and managing risk of stroke.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. This combined with heart attacks and heart disease result in over 2 million deaths a year.

The common underlying cause is vascular disease or hardening of the arteries. Heart attack and stroke can be prevented with simple life style changes and medications. Treatment of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and stop smoking will significantly lower risk of suffering from these devastating conditions. This combined with supplements and simple medications, such as aspirin with have a dramatic impact in reducing risk for stroke and heart attack.

Listen to this report to find out how you can reduce your risk of suffering from a stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular disease.

If you are concerned that you or someone you love may be at risk for stroke, please call (941) 955-5858 or click here to schedule your appointment today. If you’re outside the Sarasota area and unable to travel here, please locate a neurologist in your area.


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Migraine and other headache conditions are a common cause of pain. Migraine headaches are the leading cause of temporary disability in the work force. Fortunately, there are many medications that can be used to prevent and treat migraines.

The first therapeutic event which needs to happen is the correct diagnosis of migraine to be made. Patients can have multiple headache types. Headaches which are severe enough to limit activity and are associated with light and sound sensitivity with nausea and sometimes vomiting are most likely migraines. Migraines usually have a pulsating, heartbeat type pain – made worse by movement.

A common type of headache which can mimic migraine is occipital neuralgia. Occipital neuralgia starts at the base of the skull. There the occipital nerve exits the spine and runs up the back of the skull to the forehead. This nerve carries pain fibers. If it becomes irritated, due to trauma, “sleeping wrong” or just routine daily activities; occipital neuralgia headache occurs. The pain can be just as severe as a true migraine. The pain can be on one side, both sides or even isolated to the front of the head. Diagnosis of occipital neuralgia is made by gently pushing at the base of the skull, over the occipital nerve. If this reproduces the headache symptoms, the diagnosis of occipital neuralgia is made. The most effective treatment for occipital neuralgia is a simple injection in the upper neck in the region of the occipital nerve.

Botox was approved by the FDA in 2011 for treatment of intractable migraines. Botox migraine treatment is not for everyone. In order to have insurance or Medicare to pay for Botox, certain criteria must be met. These criteria include:

– 15 headache days a month
– Failed various migraine prevention medications
– AEDs
– Antidepressants
– Certain blood pressure medications
– muscle relaxants
– physical therapy
– migraines must be incapacitating causing missed work or school

All of these criteria must be met before insurance will authorize and pay for Botox therapy for migraines. Once approved, Botox for migraine is a simple, in-office procedure. For experienced migraine doctors, giving Botox for migraine takes about 20 minutes. Botox does not work immediately to relieve intractable migraines. Effects can be felt as soon as two weeks but maximum benefit is at 6 weeks after Botox treatment. Duration of pain relief can be from 6-8 weeks. With repeated Botox treatment for migraine headache, there is a cumulative benefit in many patients. The minimum time in between Botox treatments is 90 days.

For optimum migraine control, affected patients should be treated every 3-4 months. This results in the best migraine control. This in combination with oral medication migraine prevention therapy.

In conclusion, Botox is effective treatment for many headache patients with chronic, intractable migraines. Proper diagnosis and treatment must be given. For insurance to pay for Botox for migraine, specific criteria must be met. If you suffer from persistent, frequent headaches, call Sarasota Neurology today for an appointment. Start improving your quality of life today.


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Occipital neuralgia is a commonly missed headache diagnosis. The symptoms for headaches can be quite different. Occipital neuralgia can mimic migraine headaches but do not respond to standard migraine medications. Occipital neuralgia rarely occurs as a headache syndrome by itself. The majority of patients with occipital neuralgia have one or more other types of headache including: migraines, tension headache, rebound headache and cluster headaches. Occipital neuralgia is frequently misdiagnosed as migraine or cluster headaches. Patients with prominent face pain as part of their occipital neuralgia may be incorrectly diagnosed with tic delaroux (trigeminal neuralgia – a type of facial pain.)

Occipital neuralgia is caused by an irritation of the occipital nerve as is comes through the muscles in the back of the neck. The occipital nerve is formed from branches of the second and third cervical nerve roots. This nerve passes posteriorly up the back of the head, piercing through the muscles of the upper neck. The occipital nerve then curves over the back of the head to the frontal area, stopping at approximately the hair line. This nerve provides pain and sensory information over the back 2/3 of the head. When the nerve becomes irritated from various causes such as strained or tense neck muscles, whiplash injury, neck arthritis or even just sleeping wrong – getting a kink in your neck. These can all result in occipital neuralgia (also called occipital headache or occipital neuropathy).

The headache symptoms of occipital neuralgia include upper neck pain, pain at the base of the skull, which may be on one or both sides, and pain traveling up the back up the head as far forward as the forehead. Some patients experience pain behind the eyes or even facial pain. The pain is commonly made worse by laying on your back. The back of the head or scalp can be sore to touch. The head pain can be anywhere from a nagging aching pain to an excruciating migraine headache type of pain, which can be debilitating. The latter type of occipital neuralgia pain is frequently missed and instead treated as a migraine. Most migraine therapies do not work to relieve occipital neuralgia.

Diagnosis of occipital neuralgia is made by careful neurological examination of the patient. Most individuals have normal exams except for exquisite tenderness at the base of the skull, in the area of the occipital nerve. If pressing on this area reproduces the occipital head pain, the diagnosis is made. Treatments can include the use of anti-inflammatory agents such as aspirin, Tylenol, naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin.) Ice to the back of the neck and head can provide temporary relief. One of the most effective therapies, which can be curative for occipital neuralgia, is an occipital nerve block. This is a very safe procedure and consists of injecting a mixture of a local anesthetic with a long acting cortisone. This injection is put in the neck muscles just below the skull base, in the area where the occipital nerve pierces through the muscles. The needle is directed away from the spinal cord and is outside the skull so there is no chance of injury to the spinal cord or brain. The anesthetic works immediately and may cause some temporary scalp numbness. The cortisone is long acting – slow release so that it may take a week to be fully effective. Success rates of up to 80% have been reported. In patients with additional types of headaches, it is not uncommon to add an antidepressant to prevent migraines and other similar headaches. The antidepressants are the mainstay therapy in headache treatment and prevention and have nothing to do with their use for treatment of depression. If you think you have occipital neuralgia or have persistent headaches, particularly ones that are always on one side, you should seek out care from a neurologist who is also a headache specialist.


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There are many studies that have shown excellent health benefits from taking omega 3 type fish oil. Omega 3 oils are found in fish oils, flax seed and several vegetable oils including canola, soybean and olive oils. There are different components to these oils that provide health benefits. The DHA and EPA oils in fish oil have been linked to reducing hardening of the arteries and lowering triglycerides. They also have the benefit of lowering blood pressure and heart rate to a mild degree. This all results in an overall reduction in risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, sudden death, irregular heart beat and stroke. Fish oil can also have a blood thinning effect to reduce abnormal blood clotting, similar to that of aspirin. This latter effect is a two edge sword because too much fish oil can increase the risk for serious bleeding. Generally three grams (3000 mg) daily or less is considered safe. Daily intake of Omega 3 should come from dietary sources with no more than 2000 mg (2 grams) coming from supplements.

Omega-3 is derived from high fat containing fish such as albacore tuna, salmon, flounder, pompano, anchovies, sardines and mackerel. Fish in the equatorial regions around South America have a higher content of Omega 3 than do those caught in the more northern areas around Scandinavia and Iceland. Interestingly flax seed, flax oil and kiwi fruit contain higher amounts of Omega 3 oils than do that of fish. Flax seed can be added to cereal, baked goods or eaten alone. Fish oil capsules are available in 1000 mg and 1200 mg sizes. It is important to not confuse Omega-3 oils with Omega-6 oils. Omega-6 oils do not confer the health benefits that Omega-3 fish oils do. Omega-6 is found in high concentrations in various types of vegetable oils derived from the following: corn, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower and walnuts. It is important to reduce the consumption of Omega-6 oils as they compete with Omega-3 oils, thereby decreasing the benefit from Omega-3 fish oils. Eating fish twice a week is the standard recommendation, in addition to taking any supplements.

There have been many studies showing the beneficial effects of Omega-3 oils. The main benefit comes from reduction of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), reduced coronary artery disease, decreased risk of heart attack and potentially fatal heart beat rhythms. Omega-3 oils have also been shown in some studies to have a brain cell protective effect in such conditions as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Fish oils can improve memory to a degree. Several studies have shown that 2000-3000 mg of Omega-3 oil intake daily, has a potent antiinflammatory action as that of high dose ibuprofen. Patients with arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from Omega-3, without the risks associated with taking
antiinflammatory drugs for extended periods (such as bleeding stomach ulcers, kidney and liver damage.) It should be noted that the fish oil capsules have a more robust effect for reducing inflammation than that of flax seed oils.

Omega-3 oils can reduce total triglyceride levels and increase “good” cholesterol (HDL) levels. These oils also have an overall beneficial effect on the blood vessels, both in increasing blood flow and improving the health and stability of the vessel walls themselves. This effect is in part responsible for the risk reduction in having a stroke or heart attack as well as patients with problematic varicose veins and leg pains due to peripheral vascular disease. A word of caution: in patients with congestive heart failure, consultation with your cardiologist is first advised. As fish oil has a blood thinning effect, you should check with your doctor if you are taking prescription blood thinners. Additional benefits from Omega-3 fish oils have been shown in improving retinal (visual) function and possibly slowing down macular degeneration. Studies in psychiatric conditions have demonstrated Omega-3 beneficial effects in reducing depression, lessening memory loss and improving memory function.


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Stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or ruptures. The most common form of stroke is due to blockage of a blood vessel. Blood vessel blockage is caused by a condition known as
atherosclerosis, commonly known as “hardening of the arteries.” This is the most common type of stroke. Stroke is one of the three major leading causes of death in the United States. The other two are heart attack and cancer. Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. It is for this reason that it is much wiser to focus on stroke prevention in the first place rather than trying to limit the damage with stroke treatment after event has occurred. High blood pressure (hypertension) is the single biggest, treatable risk factor for stroke. In the 1970s, there was a push by the medical community to aggressively treat high blood pressure to lower the risk of stroke, premature heart disease and kidney failure. One cannot feel that their blood pressure is elevated but the damage to major body organs (heart, brain, kidneys) continues on. It is only when these organs start to fail or a stoke occurs, will it become apparent that a given individual may have hypertension. On occasion, patients with untreated hypertension may have headaches. Fortunately checking one’s own blood pressure is easy. This can be done at your doctor’s office, pharmacies or the local fire department. If you have high blood pressure with the top number greater than 150 or the lower number greater than 85, you need to see a physician for treatment. Fortunately there are many different types of medication to treat high blood pressure. Many patients can be successfully treated with a single drug, for mild hypertension. Individuals with moderate to more severe hypertension, multiple drug therapy may be necessary. With the aggressive push to treat high blood pressure, the rate of stroke in the United States has dropped dramatically over the past two decades. There is a class of blood pressure medication, the ACE inhibitors, that have been shown in well designed clinical studies to significantly reduce the risk of stroke independent of their ability to lower blood pressure. Current evidence based medicine strongly suggests that addition of an ACE inhibitor should be done in patients with high blood pressure, even if their blood pressure is adequately controlled on other agents. Ideal blood pressure range should be with the upper number (systolic) being less than 130 and the lower number (diastolic) less than 80.

It has been well known for several decades that aspirin thins out the blood. Cardiologists have used aspirin extensively for 30 years to lower the risk of having a heart attack. Aspirin slows down the formation of clots by blocking the clumping of platelets to form blood clots. In 1994 a hallmark study, the Antiplatelet Trialists’ Collaboration, was published demonstrating the clear benefit of aspirin in the prevention of stroke and transient ischemic attacks (TIA, “mini strokes”.) In 1998, the FDA approved labeling of aspirin for the prevention of TIA and stroke. Dosage recommendations in the range of 81-325 mg daily should be used. Unfortunately aspirin does not entirely prevent stroke or TIA from occurring. Other blood thinning agents can be used in patients who fail aspirin therapy. The other two agents are Plavix and Aggrenox. Either agent can be used in patients who have had a TIA or stroke while taking aspirin. In patients who have no history of heart disease, Aggrenox is the preferred agent. Plavix is preferred in those patients who have known coronary artery disease.

Lastly, high cholesterol has been implicated in the development of accelerated atherosclerosis. There have been studies that have shown some correlation of high cholesterol with the increased risk of having a stroke. Multiple, double-blind, placebo controlled studies have shown that the use of cholesterol lowering statin drugs for cholesterol reduction results in an average of a 27% overall secondary risk decrease in stroke. Studies are ongoing to show if statins may help in primary prevention of stroke and TIA. At this time, it is prudent to be on a statin drug, for cholesterol reduction. The currently available statins include: Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol, Crestor or Mevacor if you have a cholesterol over 200. The marked benefit of this class of drugs on the reduction of stroke and cardiac events (35%) is dramatic and strongly supports more aggressive treatment for high cholesterol (hyperlipidemia.) The objective is to have a total cholesterol less than 180, good cholesterol (HDL) of greater than 50 and bad cholesterol (LDL) less than 100. A recent study published in the journal Stroke reported that discontinuing statin therapy in the year after a stroke is associated with a significant increase in the risk for death, even in the absence of heart disease.

Medications are not the only treatment for stroke prevention. Smoking is associated with a 2-3 times greater risk of stroke and bleeding in the brain. Smoking also contributes to the accelerated development of heart disease, emphysema and peripheral artery disease. Chantix is a new medication that received FDA approval to help stop smoking. Exercise is important in maintaining overall body conditioning and weight control. This in turn leads to an overall lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol. In summary, stroke prevention is much easier and cost effective than fixing the problem after someone has a stroke. This approach to stroke reduces mortality and disability for the entire United States population. The cost saving are in the hundreds of billions of dollars over stroke treatment. If you feel that you are at risk for stroke, contact a neurologist for evaluation and treatment.


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