To prevent stroke, it is important to understand your risk factors
As one in four adults are likely to have a stroke in their lifetime, Tygerberg Hospital would like to remind the public that almost all strokes can be prevented. By being active can help decrease your risk of a stroke, which according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide. World Stroke Day is commemorated today (29 October) to raise awareness for the prevention and treatment of the condition, and to ensure better care and support for survivors. With stroke, it is crucial to act quickly, to increase chances of recovery.
According to Dr Naeem Brey, a neurologist at Tygerberg Hospital, the hospital treats between 850-950 stroke patients every year. “During April to June this year, there seemed to have been a reduction in admissions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions and delays at our rehab facilities, and in July there had been an increase in the number of patients. Where necessary, the hospital provided multi-long hypertensive and diabetic medications to at-risk patients.”
A stroke is a serious medical condition. It is caused by the blockage to an artery in the brain or the rupture of an artery in the brain. This starves the brain of vital oxygen and nutrients leading to brain damage, or death.
Patient Nadia Fransman (36) from Klapmuts did not know she was having a stroke. “My daughter told me that my face was skew. The left side of my body was paralysed. The overall treatment at Tygerberg Hospital was very good, especially the physiotherapy. I quickly regained the use of my body.”
For patient Anthea Mentoor (36) from Grabouw, the symptoms were as follows: “I had a severe headache. It affected the left side of my body. My advice to the public is, be consistent in following your treatment.”
As many stroke survivors face significant challenges that include physical disability and communication difficulties, Dr Brey answers the following questions:
Can strokes be prevented?
Most strokes can be prevented. Most of the risk factors for strokes are treatable conditions such as hypertension or high blood pressure. The other risk factors include the lack of physical activity, smoking, diabetes, being overweight, an unhealthy diet and alcohol intake.
Does one always need to take medication to prevent strokes?
If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, a heart condition or a previous stroke it needs to be treated with medications. However, not all preventative strategies require medication. Living a healthy lifestyle, which includes physical activities two to three times a week at a moderate intensity and a healthy diet with minimal salt and sugar intake, is a very effective measure to reduce one’s stroke risk. Regular exercise has shown to bring down stroke risk by 40%. If you do participate in an exercise programme, read up on what activities are best suited for your age and ability. Please consult a medical practitioner if you have any illnesses.
What are the warning signs of a stroke?
The acronym to remember is FAST. F is face (weakness involving half of the face); A is arm (is there any drift in the arms when asked to raise your arm); S is speech (does the person’s speech sound slurred or are they speaking “nonsense”, or using made-up words) and T is to take note of the time. Take the person to a hospital immediately or call an ambulance and say that your loved one is having a stroke. It’s important to think and act fast. The sooner you get to the emergency unit, the better the outcomes will be.
Are there any treatments for strokes?
There are therapies such as medications or specialised surgeries that can be performed but it will depend on the type of stroke that is found by the doctors. People who have suffered stroke will also benefit from rehabilitation. If there are no rehabilitation services in your community, ask health care workers at the hospital what treatments can be performed at home. Also consider checking the Heart and Stroke Foundation for contact details of various organisations. Visit: https://www.heartfoundation.co.za/stroke-support-directory/
Additionally, Stellenbosch University has created a useful handbook in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Sesotho and Zulu. It’s aimed to specifically help stroke patients and their families. Visit: http://www.sun.ac.za/english/faculty/healthsciences/Centre%20for%20Rehabilitation%20Studies/Pages/Resources.aspx