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Rashid Hospital’s only dedicated 24X7 stroke unit in the emirate has been working with a Canadian firm Healthcare and Innovative New Technology (HiNT) to evaluate the effectiveness of a neuro band for detecting strokes.

For the hospital, this is an important pilot project given the high prevalence of stroke, with between 8,000 and 10,000 patients affected each year in the UAE.

Dr Suhail Al Rukn, Stroke and Neurology Consultant and Head of Stroke Unit at Rashid Hospital, said the neuro band, which has been developed by HiNT, is a wearable point-of-care monitoring device that detects when patients at high risk are having a stroke. The device alerts the caregiver, the ambulance and the emergency within minutes. 

“Strokes occur suddenly and the damage takes place very quickly,” said Al Rukn. “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.

“Our doctors are working with HiNT to see whether this system can be used not only for home-patient monitoring but also in hospital set-ups.

“So far our trials have been promising but we still have to evaluate how and when we can implement this technology at our hospital.”

Al Rukn discussed the importance of stroke awareness and lifestyle modification ahead of World Stroke Day, marked every year on October 29. 

“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 years,” said Al Rukn. 

“What does this mean? Clearly we need to make urgent lifestyle changes and continue our awareness programmes to ensure lesser patients suffer stroke.”

The reasons for the high rate include a sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, obesity, dependence on fatty foods and a diet high in salts. “In the UAE, 18-20 per cent of the population is obese, 20 per cent of the population is diabetic. 

“Moreover, high salt consumption is a major issue. The average amount of salt needed on a daily basis in 2 grams, however, the average amount of salt people in the UAE consume per day is 15 grams, which is way above the required limit.”

Dr Al Rukn said stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the world and the main reason for adult disability. According to the latest data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), stroke is the leading cause of death in upper- and middle-income countries followed by cardiac diseases.

Risk factors

In the UAE, after road accidents, stroke is the second-leading cause of disability. Every hour, one person suffers a stroke. Internationally the number is 100-120 cases per 100,000, so the UAE is within the international range although unfortunately in the country stroke patients are much younger than those in Western countries.

Dr Al Rukn said that it was essential for people to be aware of risk factors, conduct yearly health screenings, and those with one or more risk factors to opt for the stroke risk calculator test, which tabulates the likelihood of a person getting a stroke in the next ten years.

The risk factors include diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, smoking, heart disease, previous stroke, alcohol, and being older than 55 years.

Dr Al Rukn said there is a simple process to identify if a person is having a stroke or not. “It’s called the FAST test. F stands for face: check whether the person’s face has fallen to one side and whether the person can smile or not. A for arms: can the person raise both arms or not? S for speech: Can the person speak or is the speech slurred? And t for time: if any of the three signs are visible, it’s important to call the ambulance right away.”

The first four and a half hours after a stroke are most crucial for doctors to minimise the damage to the brain. Ideally, the 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 is over,” said Dr Al Rukn.

People above 30 should check their blood pressure every year as there is a strong link between hypertension and stroke. Dr Al Rukn also advised that people should bring about meaningful lifestyle changes to minimise their risk of developing a stroke.