18 June 2009

Know your risk - prevent a stroke

Stroke is the third most common cause of death in South Africa, fortunately stroke deaths can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle and being aware of the risk factors.

Stroke is the third most common cause of death in South Africa, fortunately stroke deaths can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle and being aware of the risk factors associated with stroke.

A stroke, commonly known as a brain attack, happens when blood going to the brain, through the arteries, is stopped. Blood may be obstructed from moving through an artery because it is blocked by a blood clot or because the artery breaks or bursts.

Approximately 60 people a day die as a result of strokes in South Africa. It is therefore crucial to be conscious of the risk factors associated with stroke in order to reduce your chances of suffering one.

Risk factors
There are some uncontrollable factors in life that increase the risk of a stroke which include ageing (the older a person gets, the greater their risk), family history and ethnic group. However, there are risk factors that can be controlled which include:

  • high blood pressure

  • current heart disease

  • high blood cholesterol

  • physical inactivity

  • being overweight

  • smoking

  • diabetes

Other factors associated with stroke include excessive alcohol consumption (up to 10-fold increase in risk), smoking, cocaine abuse and oral contraceptives. Some forms of heart disease also increase the risk for stroke and should be controlled under medical supervision.

Signs and symptoms
The signs of stroke include sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm and leg on one side of the body, loss of speech, or trouble talking or understanding speech, dimness, blurring or loss of vision, particularly in one eye only, unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially along with any of the above mentioned symptoms, and confusion.

Surgery, medication, intense hospital care and the rehabilitation of a stroke patient will help prevent further strokes. It is imperative that rehabilitation begins soon after the stroke has occurred.

The main objective of rehabilitation is to instill independence in the person who suffered the stroke, and to be productive as soon as possible, taking into consideration the physical limitations that have resulted from the stroke. The support from family and friends is also essential in the recovery process.

Reduce your chances
Even though some people are born with a greater risk of stroke, others simply increase their risk due to an unhealthy lifestyle. To reduce your chances of a stroke, changes need to be made to one’s lifestyle and medical advice must to be followed.

These include:

  • Controlling blood pressure - the most important step is to have your blood pressure screened regularly

  • Losing weight - if overweight

  • Not smoking

  • Controlling high blood cholesterol – have it screened regularly especially if you suffer from high cholesterol

  • Limiting alcohol intake - if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (a maximum of 1 drink for women and 2 for men, per day). One drink is equal to 340ml beer, 120ml of wine or 25ml of spirits

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet low in saturated fat

  • Doing regular, physical exercise (minimum of 30 minutes, 5 times a week)

“Stroke can be debilitating not only for the person experiencing the stroke, but also for the loved ones. It is thus important to know the early warning signs so that life saving medical attention can be obtained quickly. To reduce your risk of having a stroke in the first place, be sure to have frequent health checks, manage your cholesterol, blood pressure and sugar levels, and live a healthy lifestyle,” said Erika Ketterer, Registered Dietician, HSFSA.

For more information on stroke and a healthy lifestyle visit or call the Heart Mark Diet Line on 0860 223 222 for health advice from Registered Dieticians.

(Press release, The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), September 2008)


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