Stroke is the fourth biggest natural cause of death in South Africa. Every day 360 people have a stroke, and out of those, 110 people die and 90 are left with a life-changing disability1.
The 29thOctober was World Stroke Day, making this the right time to discuss a disease that far too many South Africans believe is confined to the elderly.
It is alarming that despite stroke affecting so many individuals and families, South Africans are not as knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of stroke and the importance of immediate medical care says Prof Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa.
Moreover, many people are unaware about the importance of rehabilitation post a stroke event. For this reason, the Angels Initiative and the Heart and Stroke Foundation are partnering to launch a public awareness campaign in South Africa to attempt to reduce the burden of stroke.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is a brain attack. It happens when the blood supply to a part of the brain is cut off. It can be caused by a blockage or a bleed. Without blood, brain cells can be damaged or die2. This damage can have different effects depending on where it happens in the brain. It can affect the body, mobility and speech, as well as how patients think and feel.
The type of disability caused by a stroke depends on the extent of brain damage and what part of the brain is damaged3. It’s been proven that time lost is brain lost and every minute that treatment is delayed, more of your brain is damaged.
“The amazing reality is that the vast majority of strokes are preventable. Educating people about stroke has all sorts of positive ramifications. While prevention tops the list, another key is teaching the warning signs and to react immediately,” says Angels Initiative project lead, Carica Combrink.
In fact, you’ve already seen it. It’s the message from the Angels Initiative stroke campaigns, which uses a simple acronym to help you learn to spot a stroke F.A.S.T.
The warning signs of stroke are:
(S)peech slurred, and seeing any of those means it is
(T)ime get to an emergency unit fast.
It’s important to make yourself, your family and friends aware of the signs of stroke, as minutes’ matter when treating stroke. Strokes can be reversed if blood flow to the brain is restored4. This needs to be done at an appropriately equipped medical facility – so know where the nearest one to you is located and how to get to it should you need to. Planning for an emergency can make all the difference.
While it’s important to talk about early identification and treatment, it’s just as important to talk about prevention. Many strokes—perhaps most of them—are preventable. Here’s how:
- Know your personal risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, elevated cholesterol and atrial fibrillation.
- Control or manage these conditions by working with your healthcare providers.
- Be active, exercise and engage in physical activity every day.
- Choose a healthy diet.
#UpAgainAfterStroke: Support for Life After Stroke
In line with this year’s theme #UpAgainAfterStroke: Support for Life After Stroke, it’s important to realise that strokes are life-changing events that can affect a person both physically and emotionally, temporarily or permanently.
After a stroke, successful recovery will often involve specific rehabilitative activities including physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and support from friends and family. Prof Naidoo emphasises that post-stroke, it’s important that you have holistic healthcare which involves physical rehabilitation and mental healthcare to enable you to achieve a good quality of life.
“It is important to emphasise a significant element in the fight against stroke that is easy, quick, free and potentially life-changing and rather than focusing on alarming statistics, I prefer encouraging people to focus on the benefits of good health. Whatever you enjoy doing, you can do more of it, for longer,” concludes Ms Combrink.
The Angels Initiative has partnered with the South African Stroke Society, Heart and Stroke Foundation, Resuscitation Council of South Africa, Emergency Medicine Society of South Africa, Faculty of Consulting Physicians and Emergency Care Society of South Africa. Academic partners include universities of Witwatersrand, Pretoria, Cape Town and Stellenbosch, and they are collaborating to strengthen engagement between key role players to improve the prevention, detection and management of stroke.
The Angels Initiative is also working to enable public and private sector hospitals to advance protocols and systems to ensure better patient outcomes. The South African initiative builds on the success of a similar programme implemented in Europe with support from the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, the European Stroke Organisation, the World Stroke Organisation and leading specialists in NCDs and cardiovascular health. The Angels Initiative is spearheaded by a steering committee of neurologists, emergency care professionals, general practitioners, specialist physicians, researchers from academic and private sector hospitals and behavioural specialists. They have been instrumental in defining the strategy and implementation plans for the initiative as well as awareness campaign.
Watch the educational stroke video, called Save the Sock, that educated on the F.A.S.T method to use when you suspect someone may be having a stroke:
- Connor M & Bryer A (2006) Stroke in South Africa, Chronic Diseases of Lifestyle in South Africa since 1995 – 2005, MRC Technical Report.
- Maredza A. et al (2015). Disease burden of stroke in rural South Africa: an estimate of incidence, mortality and disability adjusted life years. BMC Neurology, 15:54
- Bertram MY et al. (2013) The disability adjusted life years due to stroke in South Africa in 2008. Int J Stroke