Every 10 minutes, two South Africans have a stroke, and minutes can make all the difference in the world between a stroke victim’s quality of life and mortality.
A stroke is manageable, provided symptoms are identified immediately and treatment is accessed in a timely manner.
In South Africa, almost one-third of the 240 individuals who experience a stroke die each day, and a third of survivors live with a persistent disability.
Strokes are the second leading cause of death worldwide, affecting one in every four people over the age of 25.
On World Stroke Day, October 29, Neurological Society of South Africa (NASA) president Dr Patty Francis declared: “Every second counts when a stroke happens. The more time the brain spends without blood and oxygen, the more severe the damage will be, increasing the risk of death or permanent impairment.”
Therefore, immediate treatment to restore the blood supply to the brain is essential to stop the damage and stop additional function loss, the expert stated.
Two million neurons are thought to be destroyed for every minute that the blood supply to the brain is reduced.
For many stroke survivors, their quality of life and independence are permanently altered, along with their mobility, memory and speech.
They won’t be able to go back to work, and many of those who had been taking care of families up until now will require full-time care for the rest of their lives.
However, prompt treatment can significantly enhance patient outcomes, preserve independence, quality of life and priceless memories.
With the #PreciousTime campaign on World Stroke Day, NASA and the World Stroke Organization (WSO) aimed to improve care and support for stroke survivors while also increasing public awareness of the symptoms of a stroke and the necessity of acting quickly.
The most frequent stroke symptoms include sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg on one side of the body, combined with loss of speech or trouble speaking or understanding speech, and they commonly present simultaneously.
Francis noted that while strokes are typically painless in contrast to heart attacks, patients run the danger of ignoring the symptoms until it is too late.
The acronym BEFAST, which stands for Balance (loss of), Eyesight (loss, blurred or fuzzy), Face (drooping to one side), Arm (weakness in one arm), Speech (slurring, difficulty speaking/understanding, not making sense), and Time to call for help, serves as a reminder of both the signs and the need for swift action.
Anyone can save the life of a loved one by just learning this acronym and an emergency number, according to Francis. “These are the signals used with great accuracy by paramedics to screen for stroke,” she said.
About 85% of strokes, according to her explanation, happen when the blood supply to the brain is cut off, depriving it of oxygen and blood, which causes a rapid loss of brain cells (neurons), which leads to the loss of functionality that stroke survivors experience.
A burst blood vessel that allows blood to flow into the brain can also cause strokes – haemorrhage (15%) – which is most frequently brought on by high blood pressure.
Clot-dissolving medications can increase blood flow, but they must be used within 4.5 hours of the start of the stroke for them to be helpful.
Therefore, a stroke patient’s odds of surviving the incident and living a life free of disabilities increase the faster they get to a facility equipped to handle stroke patients, she said.
Although up to 15% of strokes in persons under 50 occur, stroke can happen to anyone at any age. However, people over the age of 65 and those with a family history of stroke are at a higher risk.
A younger age-related increase in stroke risk is also seen in HIV-positive individuals. According to a recent research of stroke patients in the Western Cape, individuals with HIV were generally younger than those without HIV, with an average age of 46 against 55 years. Additionally, HIV-positive stroke patients were less likely to have the standard risk factors for stroke and were more likely to get infections while hospitalised.
The two biggest risks for suffering a stroke are high, uncontrolled blood pressure and atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm).
The treatment of excessive blood pressure and the detection and treatment of abnormal cardiac rhythm are two major areas where risk is being reduced globally.
When hypertension, diabetes, arrhythmia and high cholesterol and triglycerides are treated medically, up to 80% of strokes can be avoided.
Furthermore, it’s highly advised to prioritise living a healthy lifestyle by sticking to a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol.
It is never too early to begin a stroke prevention approach, and even modest changes in each of these can have a significant impact.
Nearly everyone can defend themselves from a potentially disastrous incident, according to Francis, by giving up smoking, drinking less alcohol, moving more, eating healthily, and managing blood pressure.
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