October 29th is World Stroke Day

Every 2 seconds, someone in the world suffers a stroke. Every 6 seconds, a mother, a friend, a son or a partner dies of a stroke. Every 6 seconds, someone’s quality of life will forever be changed – they will permanently be physically disabled due to a stroke!

A stroke is the second leading cause of death for people above the age of 60 and the fifth leading cause in people aged 15 to 59. The lifetime risk of stroke is 1 in 5 for women, 1 in 6 for men!

In Suriname about 4 people are admitted in hospitals on a daily basis with a stroke, of which 2 in the Academic hospital in Paramaribo.

Strokes also occur among children, including newborns. Each year, nearly six million people die from stroke. In fact, strokes is responsible for more deaths every year than those attributed to AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria put together – 3 diseases which have set the benchmark for successful public health advocacy, capturing the attention of the world’s media and which consequently has provoked world leaders, governments and many sectors of civil society to act.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a “brain attack” that cuts off vital blood and oxygen to the brain cells that control everything we do — from speaking, to walking and breathing. Most strokes (80%) occur when blood clots block or when the gradual build-up of plaque and fatty deposits clog arteries causing an infarction. Some strokes (20%) can be caused by arteries bursting when weak spots on a blood vessel wall break.

Common stroke symptoms are:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg especially on one side of the body (hemiparesis)

  • • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Right-sided hemiparesis involves injury to the left side of the brain, which controls language and speech. People who have this type of hemiparesis may also have problems talking and/or understanding what people say. They also may have trouble determining left from right.

Left-sided hemiparesis involves injury to the right side of the brain, which controls the process of how we learn, non-verbal communication and certain types of behavior. Damage to this area of the brain can also cause people to talk excessively, have memory problems and short attention spans.

Do the FAST-test if a person you know has similar symptoms as above.

F=face, let the person smile or show the teeth. Check whether the involved side of the mouth moves less

A=arms, let the person raise both arms straight up in front of the body, palms upwards. Look if the involved arm can’t be raised or less

S=speech, let the person talk or say something. Is the speech slurred or difficult to understand?

T=time, ask at what time the symptoms occurred. Up to 4.5 hours after the onset of symptoms, treatment can be lifesaving!

If one of the symptoms is present, go to the emergency room of the hospital.

What now?

Besides the medical treatment, rehabilitation can help the person with a hemiparesis learn new ways of using and moving their weak side to regain functions such as getting in and out of bed, eating and walking. A physiotherapist, occupational therapist and speech-language pathologist are just as the doctor (neurologist/rehab doctor) part of the multi- disciplinary team.

The Surinaamse Vereniging voor Fysiotherapie would like to bring your attention to the fact that many strokes can be prevented. Lifestyle Risk Factors that can be changed are:

  • smoking
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • being overweight
  • lack of exercise

World Stroke Day brings together patient survivor support networks like the ‘Vereniging Verder na een Beroerte’ (Association Life After a Stroke) in Suriname, public health authorities and others within the allied health professions including civil society at-large, for a collaborative approach to comprehensive stroke education, advocacy, prevention, treatment and long-term care and support for stroke survivors.

But let’s face it, each individual should be responsible for maintaining a healthy lifestyle as much as possible and encourage others to do so. Take action and don’t sit and wait for others to do so for you!

By Tanya Frijmersum

Tanya Frijmersum is health educator and physiotherapist.

She is a member of the Surinaamse Vereniging voor Fysiotherapie, for whom she presents this article.