What is a Stroke ?
Stroke occurs when blood flow to an area in the brain is cut off, it is not a heart attack. As a result, the brain cells are deprived of the oxygen and glucose they need to survive, and die. A stroke can result in death or cause permanent disability.
It is important to remember that the longer a stroke remains untreated, the bigger the chance of the brain being permanently damaged, that is why is important to seek medical treatment as early as possible as the earlier you are treated, the better your chance of survival and successful rehabilitation.
A stroke is always a medical emergency.
Strokes in Fiji
Anyone can have a stroke, no matter your sex, age, race or ethnicity. In Fiji, we have seen rising incidences of stroke over the last four decades, which indicates that we are not doing enough to reduce our risk of stroke.
Statistics tell us that 1 in 5 people will have a stroke during their lifetime, and 81% of people with heart (cardiovascular) disease will have a stroke. The youngest person in Fiji to suffer a stroke was 12 years old.
At any one time in Fiji, at least 2,000 people will have suffered a stroke and of these;
- 30% will need a lot of assistance for the rest of their lives
- 30% will almost completely recover
- 40% will need some assistance but can do most everyday activities on their own.
The most obvious signs someone is having a stroke is;
- Facial weakness
- Arm weakness
- Difficulty with speech
You can remember these signs if you think F.A.S.T.
Face – Does their face look uneven?
Ask them to smile
Arm – Does their arm drift down?
Ask them to raise both arms
Speech – Does their speech sound strange?
Ask them to repeat a simple phrase like Vinaka Vakalevu.
Time – Is critical. Act fast and seek help
The quicker you act, the better your chances of recovery
Another handy way to remember the warning signs is to look for D.A.N.G.E.R
Dizziness resulting in loss of balance and coordination;
Altered behaviour and unusual sudden strong bursts of anger or hostility;
Numbness, weakness or paralysis of the face, arm, leg or one side of the body;
Garbled speech or confused thinking or understanding;
Eye problems, loss of sight in one or both eyes or double vision;
Responses to stimulus is slow
Some other signs of stroke may include one, or a combination of:
- Headache, usually severe and abrupt onset or unexplained change in the pattern of headaches
- Difficulty swallowing
A Stoke affects
A stroke could affect any or all of the following short-term, long-term or permanently;
- Strength and movement in arms and/or legs
- Sensation (physical feeling)
- Understanding of space and directions
- Control of emotions like laughing and crying
- Bladder control
Who is at risk from a stroke?
Uncontrolled high blood pressure (also called Hypertension) increases a person’s stroke risk by four to six times. Over time, hypertension leads to atherosclerosis and hardening of the large arteries. This, in turn, can lead to blockage of small blood vessels in the brain.
High blood pressure can also lead to weakening of the blood vessels in the brain, causing them to balloon and burst. The risk of stroke is directly related to how high your blood pressure is.
How do I reduce my risk of Stroke?
There are some simple steps you can take to reduce your risk of a S.T.R.O.K.E.
See your Doctor regularly and if you smoke, STOP;
Test for high blood pressure and diabetes;
Required medication taken according to Doctor’s directions;
Overweight persons should change dietary habits and eat healthy for a better, longer life
Keep alcohol and yagona consumption at a reasonable level;
Exercise regularly and reduce stress.
How Does a Stroke Occur?
There are two types of stroke;
Ischemic stroke is similar to a heart attack, except it occurs in the blood vessels of the brain. Clots can form either in the brain’s blood vessels, in blood vessels leading to the brain, or even blood vessels elsewhere in the body which then travel to the brain.
These clots block blood flow to the brain’s cells. Ischemic stroke can also occur when too much plaque (fatty deposits and cholesterol) clogs the brain’s blood vessels. About 80% of all strokes are ischemic stroke.
Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures. The result is blood seeping into the brain tissue, causing damage to brain cells. The most common causes of hemorrhagic stroke are high blood pressure and brain aneurysms. An aneurysm is a weakness or thinness in the blood vessel wall that causes it to balloon outward.
A transient ischemic attack (TIA), often called a “mini-stroke,” may be a warning of an impending stroke. It typically consists of the same signs and symptoms of stroke, but the symptoms are temporary. It occurs when blood flow to a certain part of the brain is cut off for a short period of time, usually 15 minutes or less. A TIA can occur anywhere from a few minutes to several months before a stroke. A TIA is a painless episode, but it is a warning that something is wrong. It should be treated as seriously as a stroke.
Will I recover?
Recovery is possible, however, much depends on;
(i) The part of the brain affected by the stroke
(ii) How quickly the person seeks medical attention
(iii) How strictly you follow what the doctor advises
Who can Help?
- A Doctor
- Speech Therapist
- Village Health worker and;
- Counterstroke Fiji
Find out More
Much of this information was provided by Counterstroke Fiji, a voluntary organisation established in 1988. Its membership is made up of people who have had a stroke, family members, health workers and people interested in improving the quality of life of those affected by stroke.
Brown Street, Suva, Fiji
P.O. Box 14323
Phone: 3305 007