Know the signs and symptoms of a stroke

Every hour, 10 people in South Africa suffer a stroke, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa.

Therefore Netcare urges the public to familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of a stroke so that they can act fast in such an eventuality.

World Stroke Day was commemorated on Sunday October 29.

“The golden rule when a person has a stroke is for them to get medical attention as soon as possible,” explained Dr Anchen Laubscher.

“Often it may not be immediately noticeable that a person is having a stroke, and the patient themselves may have difficulty articulating what they are experiencing. This is why it is vital to increase public awareness about the symptoms associated with stroke, and emphasise the importance of getting the patient to a hospital emergency department as quickly as possible for treatment.”

A stroke occurs when the supply of oxygenated blood to part of the brain is disrupted either due to a burst blood vessel or a blood clot. Strokes may range in severity from so-called “mini strokes”, which may have only temporary effects, to life-changing disability or even sudden death.

“Every stroke should be treated as a medical emergency, even ‘mini strokes’, also known as transient ischemic attacks, as these can signal that the individual could be at risk of a more serious stroke in the future.”

Dr Laubscher noted that while stroke symptoms can differ greatly depending on which part of the brain has been affected, however, there are a number of common signs of stroke that are generally recognisable.

“When it comes to a possible case of stroke, think ‘FAST’. The acronym FAST can help you to remember what symptoms to look for and what to do in the event of a stroke,” she said.

F for Face drooping – facial muscles are weak, often causing one side of the face to droop.

A for Arm or leg weakness – the person may feel weak in one or both of their arms or legs, and may feel numb on one side of their body. They may also have poor coordination with difficulty walking or standing up and may appear drunk.

S for Speech difficulty – the person may slur words, use words incorrectly or not be able to speak.

T for Time to call emergency medical services.

“A person who is having a stroke may also experience a sudden severe headache, and sudden loss of vision or blindness in one or both eyes,” Dr Laubscher added.

“While anyone can suffer a stroke, there are a number of lifestyle factors that can help to reduce the risk and we encourage the public to discuss their individual stroke risk with a doctor. Factors that may increase one’s risk of stroke include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, insufficient exercise and an unhealthy diet,” she warned.

Dr Biancha Mentoor, clinical improvement manager in Netcare’s clinical department, said they have been focusing on strengthening stroke management expertise in their hospitals, through collaboration with the Angels Initiative, an international drive to promote excellence in the management of stroke patients and by partnering with the South African Stroke Society to enhance all aspects of care for stroke patients at their facilities.

“It has been demonstrated that stroke patients who receive medical care that is aligned to the best practice and relevant protocols tend to have better outcomes, ranging from longer life expectancy, shorter rehabilitation time and better functionality,” Dr Laubscher said.