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5 stroke myths busted

There are many misconceptions about stroke. These are five common stroke myths.

Stroke is an emergency and affects people of all races, ages and fitness levels. It is the fourth biggest killer in South Africa, but despite its seriousness, there are many misconceptions about the disease.

A lack of understanding can be dangerous since people could ignore warning signs and fail to take preventive measures. This could lead to delayed treatment, poor rehabilitation or even death. During the coronavirus pandemic, doctors have seen people as young as 30 experiencing strokes (COVID-19 is largely thought of as a disease affecting the lungs) – even when their symptoms were mild – and there’s anecdotal evidence that some people have been delaying seeking treatment for fear of contracting the disease, so misconceptions can seriously affect patient outcomes.

Dr Amanullah Rawoot, a neurologist at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital, dispels 5 common myths.

#1 Stroke only affects old people

It’s true that strokes are more common in the elderly, and as you age, your risk tends to increase. However, it is important to understand that stroke can affect a person from any age group – babies, young/school-aged children and teenagers included. Most strokes are related to diseases of lifestyle, for example smoking cigarettes, hypertension, diabetes and lack of exercise, but other causes of stroke include cardiac abnormalities, for example a hole in the heart and blood abnormalities resulting in clotting. The latter was common in some COVID-19 patients.

#2 A mini-stroke is less serious than a full-blown stroke

A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is sometimes referred to as a mini-stroke. TIA is a temporary blockage of the blood flow to the brain. The location of the blockage will determine how that manifests in the patient. For example, a blockage of the blood supply to the arm and leg can result in a paralysis of that arm and leg. In a TIA, the blood clot breaks up, blood supply is restored, and the patient makes a full recovery. Most TIAs are short-lived (10–15 minutes) and a person will recover in 24 hours.

Since it doesn’t cause permanent damage, it is often ignored, but TIA is usually a warning sign that a more severe stroke may be coming at some point in the future. In fact, according to the American Stroke Association, a TIA happens before about 15% of all strokes. A TIA, like a stroke, is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention to reduce the chances of having another TIA or prevent a fatal or disabling stroke.

#3 There is nothing you can do to prevent a stroke

It is never too late to make lifestyle changes. According to Dr Rawoot, 80% of strokes are preventable by addressing modifiable risk factors. These include hypertension, diabetes, atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), smoking, obesity, stress, physical activity, high cholesterol and excessive alcohol intake.

 #4 Strokes are painful

This really depends on the type of stroke. There are two main types:

  • Ischaemic stroke: when a blood clot blocks an artery in the brain
  • Haemorrhagic stroke: when there’s a bleed in the brain

The most common stroke type, ischaemic stroke, is typically not painful, but haemorrhagic stroke presents with a headache. Ischaemic strokes often cause weakness, language and visual disturbances, and other brain problems, depending on where in the brain the clot is situated.

The best indicator of stroke: B.E. – F.A.S.T:

  • B = Balance: Sudden onset imbalance because of weakness or lack of coordination.
  • E = Eye: Sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes.
  • F = Face: Facial weakness, uneven smile.
  • A = Arm: Is one arm weak? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downwards?
  • S = Speech: Impaired, slurred, difficulty repeating simple phrases.
  • T = Time: Get to your nearest stroke hospital immediately.

 #5 Potential for recovery after stroke is slim

Rehabilitation is an important part of stroke recovery. The treatment goal after stroke is always to help the patient regain independence, confidence and reintegrate into their community.

Recovery depends on many factors, including the severity of the stroke, age, co-morbidity (other illnesses or medical conditions) and how quickly treatment was administered. Early rehabilitation is important, so this should ideally start while the patient is still in hospital, and the amount of progress made in the weeks after the episode will give a strong indication of the long-term potential for recovery.

Visit your GP, local healthcare clinic or book a consultation at a MyLife Healthcare Centre to assess your health and find out how you can make improvements.

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a healthcare professional. E&OE. Life Healthcare Group Ltd does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by the reader as a result of the information provided.