UAE: How timely action can save residents' lives; stroke symptoms, causes explained

80 per cent of strokes are preventable, despite being the second leading cause of death globally


Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Sat 28 Oct 2023, 12:05 PM

Last updated: Wed 15 Nov 2023, 4:27 PM

Strokes are a serious health concern and a leading contributor to death and disability worldwide, but according to a medical expert in Abu Dhabi, timely action can save lives.

According to the World Health Organisation, a fourth of all people are at risk of experiencing a stroke, and its incidence is on the rise across the globe.

Non-communicable conditions like hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, and obesity are the major risk factors for stroke. Some habits also independently elevate stroke risk, such as smoking and the excessive consumption of energy drinks. Lifestyle changes are at the heart of reducing risk, even in the presence of non-modifiable risk factors like increasing age and genetic predisposition.

Despite strokes being the second leading cause of death globally and the third-highest cause of disability, there is hope in the fact that 80 per cent of them are preventable. Timely action also saves lives, so it is essential to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a stroke.

Dr Victoria Mifsud, staff physician in the Neurological Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD), stressed the importance of prompt action.

“Stroke victims lose up to 2 million brain cells a minute. But we do have access to treatments — including medications and interventions — that help reduce the debilitating impacts when timely action is taken. This is why we urge the community to be aware of stroke symptoms and to seek immediate medical attention upon stroke onset,” Dr Mifsud said ahead of World Stroke Day, which falls on October 29.

CCAD is one of the two facilities designated by the Department of Health, Abu Dhabi as the official stroke centre for the emirate.

Symptoms to look out for

A simple acronym — B.E. F.A.S.T.— encapsulates what symptoms to watch out for: Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech, and Time.

Balance: Is the person experiencing a sudden loss of balance or coordination?

Eyes: Is the person having difficulty focusing or are they experiencing double vision?

Face: Is the person able to smile fully? Is their face drooping on one side?

Arms: Can the person raise both arms or does one arm drop?

Speech: Is the person able to speak? Is their speech slurred or strange?

Time: Time is of the essence. Call 999 immediately if you see any of these signs.

80% of strokes are ischemic

It is also important to note that symptoms can differ for women and are often subtler. A sudden and unexplainable loss of function that manifests as fatigue, confusion, general weakness, nausea, severe headache, and vomiting could point to a stroke.

Hormonal changes like menopause, pregnancy-related conditions like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, and the use of some birth control pills can all heighten the risk of stroke in women. Being aware of this can help people around them watch out for warning signs. In all cases, it is important to rush a victim to a medical facility for treatment.

Raising awareness about the risks and symptoms of stroke, and urging the community to stay ahead of the curve, Dr Mifsud underlined: “Up to 80 per cent of strokes are ischemic, which means that the blood flow to the brain is blocked by a clot. If the patient is brought in within four hours of stroke onset, we can administer a clot-buster medication to extract the blood clot and restore blood flow, thus preventing the death of more brain cells. For some people, a procedure that uses a catheter to break up the clot might be required, and this should be carried out within 24 hours of symptom onset.”

For haemorrhagic strokes, which occur when a blood vessel bursts, blood pressure management is key, and doctors may administer medications or opt for surgery to reduce the pressure on the brain.

In severe cases, CCAD adopts a leading innovation, the ARTIS Icono, which is the most advanced stroke interventional system in the region. It incorporates 2D and 3D imaging with artificial intelligence and delivers benefits such as unparalleled image quality, real-time reconstruction management, time savings, and reduced radiation exposure for the patient.


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