Every hour, 10 South Africans will suffer a stroke and this condition is increasingly affecting younger people, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa.
“The incidence and effects of stroke may be reduced if people were more aware of the causes and knew how to spot the symptoms of this condition,” says Dr Anchen Laubscher, medical director of the Netcare Hospital Division. “Having a stroke is certainly a serious medical condition, however if it is identified and treated early, the damage caused to the brain can often be minimised and mortality and morbidity in patients greatly reduced. In addition, much can be done in terms of stroke prevention. For example, by adopting healthier lifestyle choices most people could reduce their risk of suffering a stroke,” adds Dr Laubscher, who was speaking during World Stroke Week, 28 October to 3 November.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is disrupted by a clot or a rupture in a blood vessel. That area of the brain becomes starved of blood and oxygen, causing brain cells to die. A stroke may cause damage to the functioning of the brain, which may result in disability and even death. Many people become debilitated to the point that they are no longer able to care for themselves.
“If a person who is suffering a stroke receives appropriate treatment at a hospital within three hours, damage to the brain could be greatly reduced. Doctors may use clot-dissolving medications or, if necessary, surgically remove the clot to ensure that blood flow is restored and the chances of recovery optimised. Therefore, in stroke cases every second counts and you should not hesitate to call an emergency service provider such as Netcare 911 should you suspect someone has had a stroke,” says Dr Laubscher.
There are two main types of strokes: haemorrhagic and ischaemic. The first type is caused by a rupture in a blood vessel, causing bleeding into the brain. It occurs far less often than the ischemic type of stroke, but is usually more serious. An ischaemic stroke results from the supply of blood to a part of the brain being cut off as a result of a clot in a blood vessel. This type of stroke occurs in nearly nine out of 10 cases.
The symptoms of stroke can differ greatly depending on the type of stroke and which part of the brain has been effected. However, there are a number of common signs:
- Facial droop
- Weakness in the arms or legs
- Weakness or numbness down one or both sides of the body
- Coordination and balancing problems
- Sudden vision changes, sometimes even blindness, in one or both eyes
- Abnormal speech – a person who has suffered a stroke may have difficulty in speaking and understanding spoken language
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Dr Laubscher says she is often asked whether strokes can be prevented from occurring. “The answer to this is that while some people are more predisposed to suffering a stroke than others, there are a number of risk factors that could be mitigated through lifestyle changes.”
Males and individuals who are over the age of 55 are at greater risk of stroke. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of stroke, high cholesterol levels, smoking, heavy drinking, lack of exercise and unhealthy eating habits.
“While we have no control over certain risk factors like ageing, heredity and gender, we could change behaviours that put us at risk, by trying to live a healthier lifestyle, including following a more balanced diet. In addition, people who are suffering from chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol should ensure that they carefully manage these in consultation with their doctor,” concludes Dr Laubscher.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Sarah Beswick
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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