First ever dedicated stroke service for KwaZulu-Natal

A much-needed, dedicated acute stroke service has been established in KwaZulu-Natal

Wednesday, February 20 2013

A much-needed, dedicated acute stroke service has been established in KwaZulu-Natal. The service, which is a first for the region, is situated at Netcare Umhlanga Hospital.

The approach of the multidisciplinary stroke team at Netcare Umhlanga Hospital is to treat stroke patients holistically and in accordance with South African Stroke Society (SASS) guidelines to afford them the best possible chance at a positive outcome, says neurologist Dr Patty Francis, who conceptualised the stroke service with two other resident neurologists at the hospital.

“Stroke is a serious medical emergency that kills and disables many South Africans every year,” points out Dr Francis. “According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, 240 South Africans suffer stroke every day, of which 60 die. A number of individuals who survive a stroke are disabled in some or other way.”

“The SASS guidelines suggest that patients with acute stroke should be managed through a protocol-driven multidisciplinary stroke service as there is evidence that this improves the chances of recovery from the condition,” she continues. “At last we are able to offer a truly integrated approach to stroke management to the people of KwaZulu-Natal.”

She says that the team providing stroke services at Netcare Umhlanga Hospital consists of a highly skilled group of healthcare professionals including emergency personnel, neurologists, neurosurgeons, cardiologists, a vascular surgeon, radiologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and a speech and swallowing therapist. “This team can treat stroke patients through a rapid triage process, from arrival at the emergency department through to their rehabilitation,” she emphasises.

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. The affected area of the brain becomes starved of blood and oxygen, causing brain cells to die. A stroke can cause damage to the functioning of the brain which may result in disability and even death. Many people are disabled to the point that they are no longer able to care for themselves.

It should be noted that there are two main types of strokes: haemorrhagic and ischaemic strokes. The former is caused by a haemorrhage in the blood vessels of the brain while the latter results from a cutting off in the supply of blood to the brain as a result of a thrombosis or embolism. Individuals who are over the age of 55 are at greater risk of developing stroke. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, male gender, family history of stroke, high cholesterol levels, smoking and an unhealthy lifestyle.

Dr Francis says most of us tend to think that there is not much that can be done when a person suffers a stroke. However, early intervention through the use of clot-dissolving medications (thrombolytics) can often restore the blood flow to the affected area of the brain, which can minimise the damage done. It is therefore vital to know the symptoms of stroke so that the victim can be treated timeously.

“There is a small window of opportunity of four and a half hours during which the effects of a stroke can still be reversed,” she adds. “It is therefore critical that the victim is taken to hospital as soon as possible for the appropriate medical treatment. It cannot be emphasised how important this is as it can mean the difference between the patient living or dying as well as between the patient living a meaningful, independent life or not.”

Symptoms of stroke
Dr Francis says that symptoms can differ greatly depending on which part of the brain has been affected. However, there are a number of signs of stroke that are common to most people. The acronym FAST is useful in remembering what to look out for and what to do in the event of a stroke:

  •     Face drooping - the facial muscles are weak and one side of the face droops
  •     Arm or leg weakness - the victim may feel weak in one or more of their arms or legs and experience a numbness down one side of their body  or
  •     Speech difficulty – the patient may slur words, use wrong words or be unable to speak
  •     Time to call the emergency medical services

An individual who has had a stroke may also suffer coordination problems, have difficulty walking or standing up and may appear drunk. Sudden blindness in one or both eyes and a severe headache with no known cause may be other signs. Anyone who is experiencing two or more of these symptoms would be well advised to contact an emergency medical services provider, says Dr Francis.

General Manager of Netcare Umhlanga Hospital, Shaun Ryan, says the new service is a powerful weapon in the fight against the devastating effects a stroke may have on a person. “We are delighted to work in partnership with some of the province’s leading experts in this field to bring this much needed new service to the community,” he concludes.

Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Umhlanga Hospital
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Monique Vanek
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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