25 October 2011

Stroke: SA's 3rd biggest killer

It's International Stroke Day on 29 October. Did you know that stroke is the third most common cause of death after HIV/Aids and heart disease in South Africa?

The effects of a stroke can be devastating and can result in early death or permanent disability. Furthermore, when someone does survive a stroke, it often puts an enormous burden on family members and/or carers. Moreover, stroke-related medical costs and disability put major strain on our healthcare system and the economy as a whole. So just how big is the problem?

A stroke is sometimes called a "brain attack" since it can injure the brain in the same way that a heart attack injures the heart.  A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted. Blood in the arteries that go to the brain carry oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells. When one of these arteries becomes blocked or bursts, the flow of blood cannot reach a part of the brain, so the brain cells in this part of the brain get damaged and the person develops the symptoms of a stroke.

  • SUDDEN weakness, numbness or tingling on one or both sides of the body
  • SUDDEN loss of speech, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • SUDDEN loss of vision in one or both eyes or double vision
  • SUDDEN severe and unusual headache
  • SUDDEN unexplained dizziness, loss of balance, trouble with walking or sudden falls

  • Your age – as you get older your chances of having a stroke increase, but it can also occur in young people, including children
  • Family history of stroke – if you have a close family member who has had a stroke in the past, you have an increased chance of having a stroke
  • A previous stroke – sadly, once you have had one stroke, you are at higher risk of a recurrence

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • High cholesterol
  • Being physically inactive
  • Unhealthy diet (inadequate fruit & veg intake and, high fat, salt, sugars)
  • Diabetes
  • Drinking alcohol excessively
  • Use of illicit drugs e.g. cocaine
  • Atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart beat)


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