October is Stroke Awareness Month. Did you know that up to 360 South Africans a day are affected by strokes. Experts warn that about a third of those who have a stroke will die, and a quarter will be left with life-changing disability. Therefore, every single person needs to be stroke aware.
Strokes are a medical emergency
Stroke is essentially a ‘brain attack’. The supply of blood and oxygen to the brain can be cut off because of a blockage or damage to a blood vessel in the brain. This causes the brain cells to die, which can be fatal or result in disability.
“Many factors complicate South Africa’s response to stroke,” says Professor Pamela Naidoo, the CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “High blood pressure, smoking, diet rich in fatty foods and sugary drinks and insufficient exercise describe the lifestyle of too many South Africans – and make us more at risk of stroke. When a stroke strikes, poor patient awareness of symptoms and inadequate access to fast medical help make survival and recovery less likely.”
Though, many strokes can be reversed if blood flow to the brain is restored before the brain tissue dies. Everyone should know the FAST test that enables easy recognition of possible stroke symptoms – and if needed, they should get to their closest appropriate emergency department as quickly as possible.
The best treatment is prevention
Most strokes can be avoided by healthy living and management of health risks. You may know about the risks of high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, inactivity, and diabetes. But what about atrial fibrillation? Many of us would describe atrial fibrillation as heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat. There are many causes and different ways of managing atrial fibrillation. But it needs professional attention because, if ignored, it could lead to a stroke.
Can strokes be treated? If so, how?
Strokes always cause brain damage. Whether this is slight, severe or fatal depends how serious the stroke is and how quickly treatment occurs.
When a stroke is caused by blockage, medication can dissolve the blood clot causing the obstruction, or a tiny instrument, guided through the system of arteries, can extract the clot.
If the stroke is caused by a bleed, the damaged artery can be surgically repaired or reinforced to stop bleeding. In some cases, sustained physiotherapy and occupational therapy can help reduce disability caused by damage to the brain.
Do the FAST test
If you suspect a stroke, ask the person to:
Face: Smile or show their teeth. Does one side droop?
Arm: Raise both arms. Does one arm drift down?
Speech: Repeat any sentence. Is there trouble speaking or understanding?
Time: Time saved is brain function saved. Every minute counts in accessing care.