7,000 people die annually in the UAE due to stroke. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) smart clinic is raising awareness about stroke prevention, which is the second leading cause of disability in the UAE, with 7,000-8,000 stroke patients a year. This means every hour, one person gets a stroke in the UAE.

Fifty per cent of the stroke patients in the UAE are below the age of 45, as compared to the global average, where 80 per cent of stroke patients are above the age of 65, said Dr Suhail Al Rukn, stroke and neurology consultant and head of stroke unit at Rashid Hospital.

“For the UAE, this is an alarming statistic and calls for urgent lifestyle changes and increase in awareness,” added Dr Al Rukn.

He said the reasons behind the alarming numbers are leading a sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, obesity, dependence on fatty foods and a diet high in salts.

“In the UAE, 18 to 20 per cent of the population is obese, and 20 per cent of population are diabetic,” said Dr Rukn.

High salt consumption is also a major issue in the UAE. “The average amount of salt needed on a daily basis is two grams. However, the average amount of salt people in the UAE consume per day is 15 grams which is way above the required limit,” said Dr Rukn.

Dr Yasmin Kamal, senior specialist neurologist at Rashid Hospital, added that stroke is the third leading cause of death in the world and the main reason for adult disability.

According the latest data by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in upper- and 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. There are 7,000-8,000 stroke patients reported in the UAE a year, in comparison to international statistics, which are 100 to 120 cases per 100,000.

“We are within the international range; however, unfortunately in the UAE, stroke patients are much younger than those in western countries,” said Dr Kamal.

She added that it is essential for people to be aware of risk factors, and to conduct annual health screenings. 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.

She said the risk factors include diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, smoking, heart disease, previous stroke, alcohol, and being above 55 years of age.

Women and the risk of strokes

According to the Stroke Association, women who take even a low-oestrogen birth control pill may be twice as likely to have a stroke than those who are not on the pill and the risk may increase if other risk factors are present.

In addition, women who take hormone replacement therapy may have a slightly increased stroke risk.

Dr Pournamy Sarathchandran, senior specialist neurologist at Rashid Hospital, said: “It is recommended that women be screened for high blood pressure before starting on the pill. Users of oral contraceptives who have one or more additional risk factors for stroke — such as hypertension, or obesity, should pursue treatment of those risk factors while on the pill,” she said.

Dr Sarathchandran also explained that as long as other risk factors are under control or not present, women can continue taking oral contraceptive pills in consultation with their gynaecologist.

“Women on oral contraceptive pills should be well-hydrated, they are also more prone to weight gain, and, therefore, they should exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet to avoid the risk of stroke,” she said.

Dr Sarathchandran said that the most important factor in minimising the disability caused by a stroke is immediate medical attention. “The thing about strokes is that it occurs 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. It has been estimated that 1.9 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,” she explained.

An important message to the community is that they should be aware of what to do in case a person is having a stroke as immediate medical intervention is important. “Unfortunately, so many people die every year and many are left to endure severe or prolonged disability because they didn’t get to a hospital quick enough after having a stroke,” she said.

A simple process 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,” explained Dr Sarathchandran.

She said that the first four and a half hours after the person gets a stroke are most crucial for doctors to minimise the damage to the brain. A patient should be taken to the hospital as soon as the symptoms are recognised, within the first three hours.

This leaves doctors with time to start treatment before the four and half-hour window period is over.

She added 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.

What is stroke?

Every stroke is different and strokes affect all bodily factions such as speech, movement, etc. A stroke on the right side of the brain generally causes problems on the left side of the body. A stroke on the left side of the brain causes problems on the right side of the body. Some strokes happen at the base of the brain and can cause problems with eating, breathing and moving. For most people, the left side of the brain controls language (talking, reading, writing, and understanding). The right side controls perceptual skills (making sense of what you see, hear and touch) and spatial skills (judging size, speed, distance and position).

Risk factors:

  • Age: More than 55
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Oral contraceptive pills
  • Previous stroke
  • Alcohol