Strokes kill South Africans every day - knowing the signs could save a life

03 November 2020 - 16:09
If South Africans make lifestyle changes, medical experts say strokes can be prevented.
If South Africans make lifestyle changes, medical experts say strokes can be prevented.
Image: 123rf/ Sergii Iaremenko

More than 200 South Africans suffer a stroke every day, and almost 70 of them die from it.

Medical experts have warned in World Stroke Week, which ends on Tuesday, that many people expect the symptoms of a stroke to be a dramatic collapse or major seizure.

"This quite often results in a failure to recognise the signs of a stroke and to seek urgent treatment.

"However, very often the first sign of stroke could be as subtle as only experiencing a weakness in an arm or down one side of the body, one side of the face sagging, or a severe headache," said Prof Andre Mochan, a neurologist at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in Johannesburg.

Mochan said stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the brain is either suddenly blocked or bursts.

This results in damage to cells in that part of the brain, which then leads to the symptoms and signs of stroke.

'Brain attack'

"A stroke is very similar to what happens to the heart during a heart attack and is therefore aptly referred to as a ‘brain attack’," said Mochan.

"What is important to note, and is not widely realised, is that most strokes are preventable by leading a healthy life and by treating and managing risk factors like high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes in association with your doctor.

"When considering the global burden of stroke, the most effective and important health intervention is prevention, or what is called primary prevention, of a first stroke.

"Preventive action would contribute to a massive scale reduction in stroke, and would also contribute to global goals of reducing cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and other significant causes of death and suffering worldwide."

Prof Pamela Naidoo, head of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA, said the country had among the highest risk factors for stroke in the world.

Naidoo said the rate of obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, unhealthy diets and hypertension in SA "make our population very vulnerable to cardiovascular disease which includes strokes".

'Lucky to be alive'

Survivor George Scola suffered a stroke at 37.

"I am truly lucky to be alive today, because I received medical attention fast," he said.

"However, my life dynamic changed in a drastic way, I had to relearn how to walk, talk and use my left hand as my dominant hand, and was left with life-changing disabilities, both visible and hidden.

"I want to encourage people to take stroke seriously as it can affect you. It does not discriminate and can occur to any age, race and gender."

Use the FAST acronym to spot the signs of a stroke:

  • F – is their face dropping?
  • A – can they hold up their arms without one drifting down?
  • S – are they slurring their speech?
  • T – if there are any of these symptoms, it is time to get them to the nearest emergency department.

TimesLIVE