Dr Suhail Al Rukn, director of Neurology Residency Programme at Rashid Hospital, says every hour one person gets stroke in the UAE
A sudden fainting spell, weakness in the left side of the body, slurred speech and a blurred vision were clear signs of a stroke when the patient was wheeled into Rashid Hospital's emergency unit nearly a month ago.
The 39-year-old Pakistani woman Maria (name changed) was pregnant with her first child 19 years after her marriage when during trip to Dubai, she fell unconscious in her hotel room while her husband was out.
Dr Suhail Al Rukn, director of Neurology Residency Programme at Rashid Hospital, where Maria was brought said that the case - due to pregnancy - was the first of its kind to be handled by the hospital, which is among the four accredited 24/7 stroke centres in the country.
"She had suffered an acute stroke," he told Khaleej Times in an interview.
"But because she was pregnant, we could not apply the same treatment to her that we do on others routinely," said Dr Al Rukn who is also the president of Emirates Neurology Society.
| Every hour one gets stroke in UAE|
Every hour one person in the UAE gets a stroke while Rashid Hospital's stroke unit sees up to 700 patients per year of which 20 per cent are Emirati.
"Around 40 per cent of these patients are younger than 50 years which is a very productive age," said Dr Suhail Al Rukn, Director of Neurology Residency Programme at Rashid Hospital.
Annually, an average of 8,000 to 10,000 people suffer from a stroke in the UAE.
The reason for people having a stroke at such a young age in the UAE is multifactorial - a high percentage of our population suffers from diabetes and hypertension.
"Obesity is a huge problem in our population and so is a sedentary lifestyle - all of these are triggers that can lead to a stroke."
The Rashid Stroke unit was set up in 2012 and now there are four such centres in the country including one in Cleveland, Saudi German hospital and one in Al Ain.
"We need at least eight to 10 such centres in the country especially the northern emirates where a third of the population lives," said Dr Al Rukn.
He also said that awareness on the condition remains low.
"We have no studies, associations or even support groups for people who have suffered a stroke."
However, the authority is studying plans to have a stroke unit in all its hospitals.
"We had to be very careful. We didn't also know if she had traumatised herself or the baby during the fall.we had to work on very limited details."
Given the time constraint, a multi-disciplinary team of doctors from various hospitals in the city got together to work out a plan to handle the case. On hand was also a gynaecologist in case there was a need to do a Caeseran or an abortion.
"A quick brain scan showed the presence of a blood clot in the artery on the right of the brain. This was a serious issue because this artery supplies blood to 2/3 of the brain," explained Dr Al Rukn.
The team swung into action and within two hours, the patient improved.
"She did not have any complications with her pregnancy, luckily, and within seven days she walked out of the hospital."
Maria is now undergoing rehabilitation at Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi to overcome the weakness in her arm and expected to deliver within six weeks.
During the acute stroke, Maria lost 1.9million brain cells per minute and within an hour she had aged by 3.6 years.
Pregnancy is one of the irreversible risk factors of stroke as are ageing, being male, heart and genetic disease.
Reversible risk factors include: high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and being overweight.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), all diseases will decline in the world by 2030 except for stroke, ischemic heart disease and cancer.
"The government should put stroke in its health agenda for the next 10 years as the Emirati population is ageing. Currently, 90 per cent of our local population is aged less than 50 years," he added.