Mills-Peninsula Health Services

To Prevent Stroke, Start with the Heart

Posted on Feb 13, 2020 in Affiliates, Cardiac, Carousel, Expanding Access, Innovation, Mills-Peninsula Health Services, Neuroscience, Quality, Research, Scroll Images, We're Awesome, Women's Services

BURLINGAME, Calif. – Does it sometimes feel like there are butterflies in your chest? Does your heart race or skip a beat? If it’s not your crush making your heart go pitter-pat, it could be a common heart condition called atrial fibrillation or AFib for short. This Valentine’s Day, take heart and consider seeing an expert if you are experiencing these symptoms. After all, AFib dramatically increases the odds of having a life-threatening stroke.

“Stroke occurs when arteries in the brain are either blocked by a blood clot or burst under high pressure,” said Ilana Spokoyny, M.D., neurologist who cares for patients at Sutter’s Mills-Peninsula Medical Center. “So when we talk about stroke prevention, it’s natural that we emphasize how to keep clots from forming or keep blood pressure regulated—and both start with the heart.”

Heart health and stroke prevention were the focus of a recent educational event, hosted by United Airlines, and led by Sutter Health. Attendees toured Northern California’s only Mobile Stroke Unit – a specialized ambulance that has the staff and equipment on-board to start stroke treatment while enroute to a hospital – and heard from the unit’s director, Dr. Spokoyny, about two common heart conditions that increase stroke risk.

Atrial fibrillation

AFib is caused when the upper part of your heart beats out of sync with the lower half. While not usually life-threatening by itself, AFib alters the normal function of the heart which leads to the formation of blood clots in the heart. Eventually these clots are pumped out of the heart and can travel to the brain where they causes a stroke.

According to Dr. Spokoyny, nearly one in every six strokes is the result of AFib, and these strokes are often more serious. “Not only are AFib patients nearly five times more likely to suffer a stroke than those without the condition, AFib-related strokes are nearly twice as fatal and twice as disabling as non-AFib-related strokes.”

“AFib may be asympomatic or symptoms show up intermittently, and because they come and go many people don’t take them seriously,” Dr. Spokoyny explained. “We need to spread the word that you shouldn’t ignore the butterfly feeling in your chest or dismiss the occasional fatigue or shortness of breath you experience.” When diagnosed, AFib is treatable with medication or medical procedures, including surgery, to reduce your risk of stroke.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure increases the strain on blood vessels transporting blood throughout your body. When blood is routinely pumped through arteries at a higher than optimal pressure, the arteries may become weakened or narrowed, creating conditions where they burst or clog more easily.

Dr. Spokoyny reminds patients that high blood pressure is the single most important risk factor for stroke. “About three out of four people who have a stroke for the first time have high blood pressure.” High blood pressure often presents along with atrial fibrillation. The good news is that blood pressure can be managed with lifestyle changes and medications.

Expertise in action

Not-for-profit Sutter Health encourages doctors to work across specialties to ensure that patients receive high quality, coordinated care. Sutter includes sixteen Primary Stroke Centers across its integrated network.

Quelling the storms of seizures in people with epilepsy: Part 2 of a series highlighting Sutter epilepsy research

Posted on Nov 13, 2019 in Affiliates, California Pacific Medical Center, Innovation, Mills-Peninsula Health Services, Neuroscience, Quality, Research, Scroll Images, Uncategorized

Epilepsy—a neurological disorder caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain—impacts almost 3.4 million nationwide. Despite advances in epilepsy treatment, approximately one-third of adults with the illness experience recurrent seizures. Read more to learn how Sutter researchers are uncovering new clues about how epilepsy develops and how it can be treated more effectively.

Stimulating the brain with neuromodulation

“Neuromodulation” is a technique that stimulates the brain or spinal cord with electrical pulses or chemicals. When used to treat epilepsy, the approach may be used as an alternative to traditional epilepsy surgical approaches or to work in synergy with them.

David King-Stephens, M.D., FAAN, Director of the Sutter Pacific Epilepsy Program in San Francisco, and Peter Weber, M.D., the program’s surgical director, were instrumental in the testing and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s approval in 2013 of one type of neuromodulation, the Responsive Neuromodulation System® (RNS) developed by NeuroPace.

Similar to a pacemaker that monitors and responds to heart rhythms, the RNS® System is a medical device implanted in the skull that monitors and responds to brain activity to help prevent seizures. The device is approximately the size of a stopwatch.    

CPMC was the highest enrolling site in the RNS® System Pivotal Study—a national, multicenter clinical trial of the RNS® System for the treatment of uncontrolled seizures in adults with epilepsy.

Peter Weber, MD“Many patients experience a 70-80% reduction in seizure frequency, and the severity of seizures is also significantly reduced,” says Dr. Weber, lead neurosurgeon at Sutter for the RNS® System clinical trial. He notes that the RNS® System plus medication-based treatment is usually, for these patients, superior to standard medical management alone.

Now, nine-years after completion of the pivotal study, follow-up data is still being collected and assessed. “Results show that, for many patients, the RNS® System led to substantial reductions in seizures, with additional benefits such as improved quality of life, cognition, and memory,” says Dr. Weber.  The RNS® System is also now available at the Sutter Sacramento Epilepsy Center.

Targeting the epicenter of epileptic seizures

To understand the nuances of a seizure, researchers study the brain cells (neurons) that misfire and cause the underlying electrical storm. When a seizure occurs, networks of brain cells involved in the seizure begin pulsing abnormally, leading to the symptoms patients experience during a seizure.

Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) are designed to modify the way neurons “fire” and how they communicate with each other and the brain’s network, thereby stopping or preventing seizures. AEDs are categorized by their main mechanism of action, although many of them have several actions and others have unknown mechanisms of action. Most of these medications are anticonvulsants or sedative medications.

There is currently no FDA-approved AED that targets potassium channels that help regulate the communications between neurons involved in the cascade of synaptic events that promote seizures.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial called Xenon 1101, sponsored by Xenon Pharmaceuticals, is underway to test a new anticonvulsant that acts on potassium voltage-gated channels.

“The potassium channel is a novel area of epilepsy study and one that offers potential to prevent seizures through agents that target it,” says Dr. Laxer, principal investigator of the trial at CPMC with co-investigator Dr. King-Stephens. “Our epilepsy program is the only center in Northern California evaluating this new anticonvulsant.”

Three hundred patients will be enrolled in the Xenon clinical trial from enrolling sites across the U.S., Canada, Spain, and the UK.

Stay tuned later this month for Part 3 of this series on Sutter epilepsy research, which will include information on laser ablation surgery.

Read Part 1, which described new ways to map and monitor brain activity in people with epilepsy.

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Lucky Landing: Mobile Stroke Unit Treats Traveler at SFO

Posted on Oct 28, 2019 in Expanding Access, Innovation, Mills-Peninsula Health Services, Neuroscience, Quality, Research, Scroll Images, Uncategorized

BURLINGAME, Calif. – It was a 9-1-1 response three years  in the making.

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Sutter Research: Advancing Care for Patients with Breast Cancer

Posted on Oct 21, 2019 in Affiliates, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, California Pacific Medical Center, Expanding Access, Innovation, Memorial Medical Center, Mills-Peninsula Health Services, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Quality, Research, Scroll Images, Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, Transformation, Women's Services

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Breast cancer research has the potential to improve cancer care for the 3.8 million American women living with the illness. Recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re highlighting the bold science and game-changing breast cancer research at Sutter. This work can help advance knowledge of how to detect and treat the illness.

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Research at Sutter Health Brings New Hope to People With ALS

Posted on Jul 10, 2019 in Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, California Pacific Medical Center, Innovation, Mills-Peninsula Health Services, People, Quality, Research, Scroll Images, Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Stephen Hawking—one of the world’s most accomplished physicists— lived most of his life with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). His lifetime of accomplishments and worldwide renown cast an international spotlight on the debilitating disease. Read More

New research by Sutter’s Center for Health Systems Research focused on fostering physician wellness

Posted on Jul 2, 2019 in Affiliates, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, California Pacific Medical Center, Innovation, Mills-Peninsula Health Services, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Quality, Research, Scroll Images, Transformation

SAN FRANCISCO – How do you take care of those whose life’s work is to take care of others? “Physician, heal thyself” is an increasingly challenging objective to achieve for the more than 50% of American clinicians who report symptoms of burnout. Emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, depression and feelings of helplessness burden the care providers staffing primary and specialty clinics nationwide.

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