Know the signs of a stroke

To mark World Stroke Awareness Week, the South African Medical Association (SAMA) has urged South Africans to actively seek to be better informed on the risks of stroke.

The call comes ahead of World Stroke Awareness Week, which begins on Wednesday, 28 October and runs until 3 November.

World Stroke Awareness Week and World Stroke Awareness Day on 29 October is aimed at raising awareness about the symptoms of stroke, and the importance of taking treatment for recovery.

“This year’s commemoration is uniquely different because the world is facing the greatest global health emergency in more than a century: COVID-19. There is mounting evidence of COVID-related stroke among young patients in some parts of the world and it’s our collective responsibility as the health community to ensure our patients, and citizens in general, are educated and aware of the risks and treatments available to them,” said SAMA chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee.

According the World Health Organisation (WHO), stroke incidence in low- and middle-income countries has more than doubled in the past four decades.

Nearly 240 South Africans suffer strokes daily, and 70 of them die. According to the South African Stroke Society (SASS), this makes stroke a leading cause of death and disability in the country.

Dr Coetzee said being aware of the symptoms of stroke is critical for every South African.

“Although mainly older adults suffer strokes, anyone at any age can have a stroke. The impact of stroke can be significantly reduced by an intensive education and awareness drive that targets both those with stroke risk factors and those without. As stroke is often not painful, warning signs of this devastating condition are often ignored,” she said.

SAMA says citizens must inform themselves of their own risk of stroke and of those close to them. It urged medical doctors and other healthcare workers to raise awareness of stroke, not only during World Stroke Awareness Week, but at all times.

There are common signs and symptoms of stroke people must be aware of. These include:

· Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg (usually on one side).

· Speech difficulty and trouble understanding what others are saying.

· Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes.

· Sudden, severe headache.

· Sudden dizziness, loss of balance, and trouble walking.

Immediate medical attention must be sought when these signs are noticed and also when they seem to have disappeared. Early access to health care will save lives, limit the effect of disability, and improve quality of life post-stroke.

“The good news is that many people who have had a stroke may make a full recovery, although full recovery is contingent upon many factors, including seeking medical care early. But of course, preventing a stroke in the first place is vital. Ensuring further complications after a stroke occurs must also be exercised in addition to seeking treatment, and to prevent direct and indirect costs on the health system and the economy,” said Coetzee.

SAMA said it is important to recognise and combat the controllable risk factors and uncontrollable risk factors of stroke and heart diseases in general.

Controllable risk factors include smoking, physical activity, alcohol use, blood pressure, body weight and stress, while the uncontrollable risk factors include age, gender, genetics, family history and poverty.

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