Dubai, United Arab Emirates, October 28, 2020: Ahead of World Stroke Day, which is on the 29th of October every year, a DHA neurologist discusses the importance of lifestyle measures and the need to be aware on how to minimise brain damage in case of a stroke by taking quick actions.
“When it comes to stroke, every second counts. In fact, two million brain cells die every minute until blood flow is restored and these cells may not be re-generated. What this means is that time is essential to minimise brain damage caused by strokes,” says Dr. Suhail AlRukn, stroke and neurology consultant and head of stroke unit at Rashid Hospital.
DHA stroke unit:
The unit was established in 2013 and was the only unit in the world outside Germany to receive the German stroke accreditation. The unit provides 24/7 comprehensive stroke management and intervention and has expanded from four beds to 10 beds only dedicated for stroke patients.
About one in four people worldwide have a stroke — the world’s number two killer and a leading cause of disability. In the UAE, approximately 8,000 to 10,000 patients suffer a stroke per year. However, the good news is that up to 80 per cent of cases may be prevented according to Dr. AlRukn.
AlRukn says, “Strokes occur suddenly and the damage takes place very quickly, the longer it takes a person to get medical assistance, the more the brain damage. An adult brain has a total of five to six billion brain cells, when a stroke occurs brain cells start to die. Approximately 2 million brain cells die per minute in a stroke case. Therefore, the level of disability can be quite severe as the effects of a stroke on the body are immediate.”
He says strokes can lead to disability and while rehabilitation can help reverse or minimize the damage, it can take years, this is especially difficult if the patient is a young adult.
“Fifty per cent of the stroke patients in the UAE are below the age of 45 years, as compared to the global average, where 80 per cent of stroke patients are above the age of 65 years. He clearly points out the need for urgent lifestyle changes. “It is heart breaking as these young adults might not be able to regain full mobility again and will spend years in rehabilitation, many will need to rethink their careers and often this age group has young dependents they need to take care of,” says AlRukn
AlRukn says that sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, obesity, dependence on fatty foods and a diet high in salts are some of the main culprits that can lead to a stroke. “In the UAE, 18 to 20 per cent of the population is overweight, 20 per cent of population are diabetics. Moreover, high salt consumption is a major issue. The average amount of salt needed on a daily basis in 1.4 grams, however, the average amount of salt people in the UAE consume per day is 5 grams which is way above the required limit.”
According the latest data by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in upper –middle-income countries, stroke is the leading cause of death, followed by cardiac diseases.
In the UAE, after road accidents, stroke is the second leading cause of disability. Annually 8,000 to 10,000 patients in the UAE suffer from stroke; this means every hour, one person has a stroke. “Internationally the number is 150 to 200 cases per 100,000 so we are within the international range; however, unfortunately in the UAE stroke patients are much younger than those in western countries,” says AlRukn.
He says that it is essential for people to be aware of risk factors, to conduct yearly health screenings and those with one or more risk factors can opt for the stroke risk calculator test, which tabulates the likelihood of a person getting a stroke in the next ten years.
Dr. AlRukn says the risk factors include diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, smoking, heart disease, previous stroke, age: above 55 years.
Dr. AlRukn says there is a simple process that can help family members identify if a person is having a stroke or not. “It’s called the FAST test, the details are: Face: check whether the person’s face has fallen to one side and whether the person can smile or not. Arms: Can the person raise both arms or not? Speech: Can the person speak or is the speech slurred? And lastly, Time: If any of the three signs are visible, it’s important to call the ambulance right away.”
He says that the first four and a half hours after the person gets a stroke are most crucial for doctors to minimize the damage to the brain and thus getting to a hospital on time is crucial. Ideally, the patient should be taken to the hospital as soon as the symptoms are recognized, within the first three hours. “This leaves doctors with time to start treatment before the four and half hour window period is over,” says Dr. AlRukn.
He adds that people above the age of 30 should check their blood pressure every year and that there is a strong link between hypertension and stroke. He also advocated that people should bring about meaningful lifestyle changes to minimize their risk of developing a stroke.