Stroke prevention starts now!

(By Ayodele U. Adiat)

Stroke and other non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer are receiving increasing attention from the international health community. In the wake of United Nations General Assembly in 2011 convened to address non-communicable diseases as a developmental challenge of epidemic proportions, governments around the world have risen to the challenge. There is the highly publicised fight against childhood obesity in the United States. Locally, the tobacco control bill and the mental health bill are being touted as interventions that can stem the tide of NCD in Nigeria.

ON 29 October World Stroke Day is marked yearly. On this day stakeholders around the world join hands to bring this condition to the forefront of global discourse and health agenda. This is essential considering the burden of the disease and its implication for developing nations like Nigeria.

Stroke accounts for 5.8 million deaths annually, which is greater than that from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. It is a leading cause of disability worldwide. More alarming is the fact that two thirds of people who suffer stroke reside in low and mid income countries where awareness of prevention, care and support is lowest.

Stroke also known as cerebrovascular disease (CVD) occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrient to the brain is blocked or burst. When this happens, the cells in that part of the brain begin to die. Since brain cells cannot regenerate, the damage is usually irreversible.

The paralysis, loss of consciousness and difficulty communicating often associated with stroke are the results of this process. The specific signs and severity depend on the part of the brain affected.

Many of the risk factors for stroke are behavioural: Cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and harmful use of alcohol-induced conditions like hypertension and diabetes.

Multiple factors may be found in one person. Together they contribute to the process of blocking the arteries or weaken them till they burst. Although stroke occurs in people of all ages, advancing age increases the risk of having a stroke. It is worth noting that most risk factors take root in childhood and youth.

Stroke and other non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer are receiving increasing attention from the international health community. In the wake of United Nations General Assembly in 2011 convened to address non-communicable diseases as a developmental challenge of epidemic proportions, governments around the world have risen to the challenge. There is the highly publicised fight against childhood obesity in the United States. Locally, the tobacco control bill and the mental health bill are being touted as interventions that can stem the tide of NCD in Nigeria.

Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that over the last two decades death from stroke has declined in developed countries as a result of prevention and individual health care strategies. Unlike HIV and AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis which require heavy investment in drugs, diagnostic and preventive technology and robust political will, the most essential components of stroke prevention are largely available to all.

To keep stoke at bay we must make healthy choices about lifestyle.  All that is required is individual commitment to the six stroke challenges; namely,

Know your personal risk factors

The first step is to know what health conditions already exist in your body that may increase your risk of suffering a stroke. Simple tests like the blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol are used to diagnose hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidaemia respectively. The presence of any of these requires urgent medical attention to prevent progression to stroke.

Be physically active and exercise regularly

People often confuse the stress of their daily life and occupations with exercise. The kind that is useful in disease prevention must be intentional, consistent and sustained.

Measures like walking instead of using transport; using stairs instead of the lift and gardening help control weight and reduce risk. A healthy prescription is walking fast for 30 minutes five days a week.

Maintain a healthy diet

Good diet is low in salt and fats, high in fruits and vegetables.

Salt raises the blood pressure and high blood pressure increases the risk of stroke. Adults require less than 5g of salt per day. Children in particular require less salt. This includes salt in everyday foods like bread, canned and packaged food as well as that used in cooking and at the table. Take the time to get used to lower salt food and you will enjoy it just as much.

Limit alcohol consumption

Excess alcohol damages the body. In some people the brain is affected in others the liver or muscles. The long-term effects of excess alcohol are the same irrespective of the kind of alcoholic beverage, that is, beer and wine are no different in their long-term effects. Women particularly have a lower threshold beyond which damage is done to their organs.

Avoid cigarette smoke. If you smoke seek help to stop.

Even more damaging than excess alcohol is cigarette smoke to both the smoker and those who inhale the smoke around him. Study after study has implicated smoking or chewing tobacco as a risk factor for so many diseases. It is therefore worth the effort to quit this harmful habit.

Recognise the warning signs of stroke and take action.

About 70 per cent of people do not recognise a minor stroke when it occurs. More than 30 per cent delay seeking medical attention for more than 24 hours after a stroke occurs. This is unfortunate because millions of brain cells die each minute a stroke remains untreated and brain damage is permanent.

There are treatment options that can only be used when a patient comes in within hours of the stroke. Therefore, recognising the signs is a must.

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or leg especially on one side of the body, or sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble seeing, walking or dizziness, severe headache of unknown cause.

If you suspect a person has just suffered a stroke act fast.

Face: check if the mouth is bent to one side

Arms: can they lift both arms?

Speech: is it abnormal? Do they understand you?

Time is critical. If you notice any of these act FAST. Stroke is a medical emergency.

• Adiat is a medical doctor with interest in neurology and public health.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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