Stroke is the third most common cause of death and the leading cause of disability in South Africa. Since the chances are high that someone close to you will have a stroke one day, it’s a good idea to be equipped so you can recognise and support their needs if necessary.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is caused when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. This could be because there is a lack of blood flow (ischaemia) or leakage of blood (haemorrhage) in the brain. Brain cells need a constant supply of oxygen and glucose from the bloodstream in order to function properly. Without these, the body may not be able to perform many key functions, which is why stroke victims will often experience a loss of movement, perception, speech and even consciousness.
What types of strokes are there?
Strokes are classified into two major categories: the more common ischaemic strokes, which are caused by interruption of the blood supply to the brain, and haemorrhagic strokes, caused by ruptures of a blood vessel or when someone has an abnormal vascular structure.
Did you know? Around 240 strokes occur every day in South Africa.
What is a “mini stroke”?
A “mini stroke” or Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) resembles a stroke, but symptoms disappear within 24 hours. A TIA should be regarded as a warning to seek medical help to prevent a full-blown stroke (which may be fatal or disabling) in the future.
The effects will vary, depending on which area of the brain has been affected and the size of the area that has been damaged. A stroke on the left side of the brain affects the right side of the body and one on the right side of the brain affects the left side of the body.
Possible physical effects of a stroke:
- Paralysis of one or both sides of the body
- Problems with vision
- Speech or language problems – difficulty speaking, reading, writing or understanding speech
- Memory problems
- Difficulty swallowing or eating
- Depression or emotional issues
- Incontinence (trouble controlling the bowels or bladder)
There are many risk factors associated with strokes (many of which can be controlled or avoided). Here are some common risk factors:
- Being overweight
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Lack of exercise
- Heart disease
- Drug abuse
- Malformed arteries
- Hardening of the arteries
- Aneurysms (abnormal widening of part of an artery due to weakness in the wall of the artery)
How to recognise a stroke
The physical symptoms happen quickly and often occur on one side of the body. Some warning signs are a sudden:
- numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg
- tingling sensation in the affected area
- difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
- trouble walking, or with balance or coordination
- severe headache with no other known cause
- difficulty speaking or communicating
- difficulty thinking or understanding things clearly
Prevention through tests and screenings
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa encourages all South Africans to “know their numbers”, as early detection is essential to help reduce the risk of a stroke. This means going to a medical professional to measure your:
- Blood pressure
- Blood glucose
- Body mass index (BMI)