In South Africa, strokes are a serious health concern for women. According to data from the South African Heart and Stroke Foundation, strokes are the second leading cause of death among South African women, accounting for approximately 18% of all female deaths1. This emphasises the importance of understanding strokes and taking preventive measures.
Strokes are serious health events that can affect anyone, including women. While it might sound like a scary word, it’s important to understand that learning about strokes can help us stay healthy and take steps to prevent them.
Causes of strokes
“A stroke happens when something goes wrong with the blood supply to the brain. Imagine your brain as a supercomputer that controls everything your body does, and it needs a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients carried by blood to work properly. If the blood flow is suddenly blocked or reduced, the brain cells start to die because they’re not getting what they need,” explains Dr Stern Pretorius.
There are two main types of strokes: ischaemic and haemorrhagic.
- Ischaemic stroke. This is the most common type and usually happens when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel that carries blood to the brain. This can occur if there’s a build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels over time, making them narrower and more prone to getting blocked.
- Haemorrhagic stroke. This type occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and starts bleeding. This can happen due to high blood pressure, weak blood vessel walls, or an injury.
Strokes can happen suddenly, so it’s important to recognise the signs:
- Face drooping. One side of the face might droop or feel numb. Ask the person to smile to check.
- Arm weakness. One arm might feel weak or numb. Ask the person to raise both arms to see if one drifts downward.
- Speech difficulty. The person’s speech might become slurred or hard to understand.
If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to call for emergency help. Time is crucial for treating strokes.
Diagnosis & treatment
When someone arrives at the hospital with stroke symptoms, doctors will do tests like brain scans to figure out what type of stroke it is. Treatment options depend on the type of stroke:
- Ischaemic stroke. Doctors might give a medicine that dissolves the blood clot and restores blood flow, but it needs to be given quickly. This treatment can help save brain cells.
- Haemorrhagic stroke. Treatment might involve stopping the bleeding and preventing more damage.
Possible side effects of strokes
Having a stroke can lead to various side effects depending on how severe it was, and which part of the brain was affected. Some common side effects include:
- Weakness or paralysis. Some people might have trouble moving one side of their body after a stroke.
- Difficulty speaking or understanding. Strokes can affect the part of the brain that controls language, making it hard to talk or understand others.
- Trouble with memory & thinking. Strokes can sometimes affect memory, thinking, and concentration.
- Emotional changes. Some people might feel more emotional or struggle with mood changes after a stroke.
- Difficulty swallowing. Swallowing problems can occur, making it hard to eat and drink.
- Trouble with balance & coordination. Strokes can affect balance and coordination, making it challenging to move around.
Preventing strokes is all about taking care of our bodies. Here’s how:
- Healthy eating. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Try to limit fatty and salty foods.
- Exercise regularly. Even simple activities like walking can make a big difference. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity most days.
- Manage stress. Find healthy ways to cope with stress, like deep breathing, talking to friends, or enjoying hobbies.
- Quit smoking. Smoking damages blood vessels and makes strokes more likely.
- Limit alcohol. If you drink, do so in moderation. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure.
- Check blood pressure. High blood pressure is a big risk factor for strokes. Get your blood pressure checked regularly and follow your doctor’s advice.
While strokes might sound frightening, knowing about them empowers us to take charge of our health. Remember, strokes can happen to anyone, but by making small changes to our lifestyle, we can reduce our risk significantly.
Recognising the symptoms, acting quickly, and making healthy choices can go a long way in protecting ourselves and our loved ones from the impact of strokes. Stay informed, stay healthy!
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