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Stroke is the leading cause of disability in South Africa with more than 400 South Africans suffering from a stroke daily – according to Western Cape MEC of health Dr Nomafrench Mbombo. 

Today marks the last day of World Stroke Awareness Week, and today’s Wellness blog is highlighting all that you need to know about stroke.

Brief Background Of Stroke 

Medical doctor, Dr Amanda Muchocho walks us through the dynamics of a stroke. 

‘’Your brain is fed by blood carrying oxygen through vessels called arteries. A stroke happens when blood cannot get to the brain because of a ruptured or blocked artery. This results in sudden loss of neurological function persisting for 24hrs or less,’’ explains Dr Muchocho. 

‘’Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented. I was one of the 20% – the stroke was idiopathic or cryptogenic, meaning the cause was unknown,’’ – Thato Minyuku, Stroke survivor. 

The likelihood of these incidents increase as one gets older. In developing countries or low-income households, the rate of stroke is quite high due to a less healthy lifestyle. 

Dr Muchocho further shares that, 

‘’Risk factors for stroke can be divided into fixed (out of your control) which include age, gender, race, previous stroke, hereditary and modifiable (within our control) which include hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidaemia (high cholesterol levels from fatty diet), heart disease, oestrogen containing drugs e.g. oral contraceptive pill, cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol intake.’’

Symptoms of Stroke

Dr Muchocho takes us through some of the symptoms of a stroke that you should lookout for, and seek immediate medical assistance should you be experiencing any of these: 

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden difficulty talking or understanding speech.
  • Difficulty seeing with one or both eyes.
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or difficulty walking.

‘’I took the day off from work because I thought I had a stomach illness. I lived alone at the time. I had global aphasia (a disorder that results from damage to areas of the brain that produce and process language). After suspecting that something was wrong, my sister convinced the security guard to enter my place, and lucky enough I was still alive,’’ – Thato Minyuku, stroke survivor.

Dr Muchocho advises that if you or someone near you experiences a stroke, act FAST:

  • F-face drooping. Does one side droop when the person smiles. 
  • A-arm weakness. Ask the person to raise both arms, does one arm drift downwards?
  • S-speech difficulty. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, are the words slurred?
  • T-time. If the person shows any of the above, call your nearest health emergency service.

You may be asking yourself, so, what do you do while waiting for emergency services to arrive? 

‘’When a person is having a stroke, every second counts and what you do in those critical moments can potentially save the person’s life,’’ says Dr Muchocho. 

After calling emergency services, Dr Muchocho advises to note the time at which the symptoms began as this information will be crucial to the treating physicians. 

‘’That information will help them in deciding which treatment to give the person once they are at the hospital. Should the person become unconscious while waiting, check for a pulse and breathing, if there’s none initiate CPR,’’ shares Dr Muchocho.

Treatment of Stroke

Stroke rehabilitation is a multidisciplinary team effort. The duration of therapy depends on the severity of the stroke and differs from person to person. 

Dr Muchocho says, 

‘’For some, it can take weeks while for others several months. Specialists involved include physicians (primary doctor and neurologists) who guide your care and help maintain a lifestyle to prevent a future stroke. Physiotherapists help with relearning walking and strengthening of muscles, occupational therapists help with relearning hand use for daily skills such as bathing, and dressing yourself, while speech therapists assist with improving ability to swallow and language skills.’’

‘’I ceased speech therapy and neuro-occupational therapy after 8 years. As a mother and teaching my child how to communicate, I am proud to say that I actually have free speech therapy and occupational therapy just by being a mother,’’ – Thato Minyuku, stroke survivor.

It is pivotal for those who experience a stroke to receive immediate medical attention. Early admission of patients to a specialized stroke unit facilitates coordinated care from a specialized multidisciplinary team and has been shown to reduce both mortality and residual disability amongst survivors. 

‘’Failure to receive medical assistance can result in difficulty speaking and understanding, problems controlling, and coordinating movement of the affected limbs, difficulty swallowing food and drinks, and weakness of the affected side of the body,’’ warns Dr Muchocho.

Supporting Affected Family & Friends

Recovering from a stroke can be a long and frustrating experience both for the person affected and family members. 

‘’Through the power of patience, focusing on family instead of corporate work and most of all doing the work that I do for stroke survivors, my life was and is a blessing,’’ – Thato Minyuku, stroke survivor.

Dr Muchocho advises that seeing a psychologist can be beneficial to the parties involved as it will help address fears and expectations. A strong support system is what is most important for the patient as the road to recovery doesn’t happen overnight.

Wrapping Up

It is important to find out your family’s history with stroke, if any, because stroke runs in some families.

Dr Muchocho concludes by adding that members of a family might have a genetic tendency for stroke risk factors such as an inherited predisposition for Diabetes, hyperlipidaemia and hypertension.

In conclusion, if you would like to lower the risk of getting a stroke follow these 5 steps:

  • Keep your blood pressure in the normal range.
  • Quit smoking.
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar (glucose) in the normal range.
  • Keep your cholesterol in the normal range.
  • Seek medical attention if you have a heart disease. 

Remember that exercise may also assist in preventing a stroke by helping to reduce other risk factors, including high blood pressure and obesity. Let’s commit ourselves to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and lowering the risks of suffering from a stroke.