Learn how to identify symptoms of a stroke

MEC for Health Dr Nomafrench Mbombo speaks about strokes at the event.

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the province and one of the leading causes of disability in the country, with more than 400 South Africans suffering from a stroke daily.

In the lead up to World Stroke Day, which is observed annually on Sunday October 29, a Stroke Awareness event was held with the MEC for Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, at the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre (WCRC) in Lentegeur on Wednesday October 25.

Stroke Awareness Week is commemorated from Saturday October 28 to Friday November 3.

Dr Mbombo applauded the WCRC for the valuable contribution it makes to physical rehabilitation services offered to residents but highlighted that preventative action always surpasses the best treatment.

“Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the South Africa. Many survivors are left chronically disabled and one third of these survivors are at risk of having a second stroke within a year. Maintaining a healthy and disciplined lifestyle is the best preventative measure for stroke.”

She said the damage left after a stroke cannot always be cured.

Referred to as the flagship for physical rehabilitation services in the province, the WCRC offers specialised, multi-disciplinary rehabilitation programmes for persons with physical disabilities, including stroke survivors.

Maria Morris from Tafelsig had a stroke in August this year and received treatment at the WCRC. “I was at home when I got a stroke, the whole left side of my body was weak and I couldn’t move. It wasn’t easy for me because I could no longer do the things I used to like moving around. Also, my one side of my face dropped and I wondered if it will ever come right,” she said.

Ms Morris said she tried to remain positive and received therapy at the facility. She said they worked well with her and she has felt much better over the past few months.

Jenny Hendry, Chief Executive Officer at the WCRC, said they admit approximately 700 to 800 patients a year. She said about 30 to 35 percent of patients admitted to their facility are stroke victims.

Ms Hendry said the majority of strokes are caused by hypertension, diabetes, tobacco and substance abuse as well as obesity. “Sedentary lifestyle choices such as inactivity and poor diet, increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, which are all precursors to stroke. These are controllable and if altered can reduce the likelihood of stroke,” she said.

She said over that the past three years the facility has seen a noticeable increase of younger patients between the ages of 15 to 40 years being admitted for stroke rehabilitation.

“Twenty-six percent of patients were admitted during the 2014/ 2015 financial year were between the ages of 15 to 40 years; this percentage increased by nine percent by the end of the 2016/ 2017 financial year,” she said.

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

Netcare is urging people to familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of a stroke so that they can act fast in such an eventuality.

Dr Anchen Laubscher, medical director of Netcare Hospitals, said the golden rule when a person has a stroke is for them to get medical attention as soon as possible.

“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.”

Dr Laubscher said 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. She added that 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.

“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.

“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.