World Stroke Day: 4 ways to spot the signs of a stroke

Each year, October 29 is observed as World Stroke Day to raise awareness and reduce the incidence of stroke. Driven by the World Stroke Organization, the focus this year is on prevention – more specifically, “Don’t be the one” and “Join the Movement”.

The message aims to encourage people to get “moving” as consistent physical activity reduces the risk of getting a stroke. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), with support from Boehringer Ingelheim, will host free educational webinars featuring a panel of experts for the general public and health-care practitioners.

“The risk factors for stroke in South Africa are among the highest in the world,” says Professor Pamela Naidoo, chief executive of the HSFSA. She states that the rate of obesity, physical inactivity, tobacco smoking, unhealthy diets and hypertension in our country make our population very vulnerable to cardio-vascular disease which includes strokes.

“Learning from the Covid emergency, collaborations and partnerships make a real difference to the country’s health outcomes. We can hugely improve the quality of patient care if we share our knowledge more generously and strengthen our services to the community with partners like Boehringer Ingelheim. We need to continue working together to make South Africa a healthy nation.”

Naidoo highlights that stroke is a medical emergency. Every day, up to 360 South Africans are affected by stroke. About a third of those who suffer a stroke will die, and a quarter will be left with life-changing disability.

A stroke occurs when oxygen supply to the brain is decreased by a blockage or damage to a blood vessel in the brain. This causes brain cells to die. Large or critical strokes can be fatal or result in disability.

“The good news is that the vast majority of strokes are preventable. Boehringer Ingelheim embraces the importance of awareness and education around stroke and its symptoms in order to better equip people to deal with this life-threatening medical emergency. While prevention tops the list, it’s our responsibility to teach young and old about the warning signs of stroke and help them react immediately,” says Dr Michael Klein, medical director at Boehringer Ingelheim.

It has been proven that time lost is brain lost and every minute that treatment is delayed, more of the patient’s brain is damaged. A person loses 1.9 million neurons each minute in which stroke is left untreated. Every minute counts.

Use the FAST acronym to spot the signs of a stroke: 4

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’s time to get them to the nearest emergency department.

“Our communities can fight stroke on many fronts. With such a high prevalence, it helps to know how strokes can be prevented. Adopting healthy behaviours is key to the prevention. It is important to know your personal risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, elevated cholesterol and atrial fibrillation,” says Naidoo.

She further encourages South Africans to control or manage these conditions by being active, exercising and engaging in physical activity every day and by choosing a healthy diet.