At least 50 per cent of stroke patients in the UAE are below the age of 45, which is an alarming statistic that calls for urgent lifestyle changes and an increase in awareness, according to a senior doctor.
In the UAE, after road accidents, stroke is the second leading cause of disability. Annually 8,000-10,000 patients in the UAE get a stroke; this means every hour, one person gets a stroke.
Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 patients get a stroke per year in the UAE, said Dr Suhail Al Rukn, stroke and neurology consultant and head of stroke unit at Rashid Hospital.
"Stroke awareness in the UAE is particularly important," he said.
"Fifty per cent of the stroke patients in the UAE are below the age of 45 years, as compared to the global average, where 80 per cent of stroke patients are above the age of 65 years. For the UAE, this is an alarming statistic and calls for urgent lifestyle changes and increase in awareness," he warned.
Stating the reason for such high numbers, Dr Al Rukn said that the sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, obesity, dependence on fatty foods and a diet high in salts were some causes.
"In the UAE, 18 to 20 per cent of the population is obese, 20 per cent of population are diabetics. Moreover, high salt consumption is a major issue. The average amount of salt needed on a daily basis is two grammes, however, the average amount of salt people in the UAE consume per day is 15 grammes, which is way above the required limit," he added.
Dr Al Rukn said stroke is third leading cause of death in the world and the main reason for adult disability. According to the latest data by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in upper, middle-income countries, stroke is the leading cause of death, followed by cardiac diseases.
Internationally, the number is 100 to 120 cases per 100,000 so we are within the international range. However, in the UAE, stroke patients are much younger than those in western countries.
He said that it is essential for people to be aware of risk factors, to conduct yearly health screenings and 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 10 years.
Dr Al Rukn said the risk factors include diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, smoking, heart disease, previous stroke, alcohol, age: above 55 years.
Women and the high risk
Dr Pournamy Sarathchandran, senior specialist neurologist at Rashid Hospital, 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 said.
She also said the community 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."
Dr Pournamy said that 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."
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 and thus getting to a hospital on time is crucial, 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 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.
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