NEWS released last week was that the famous singer, Cilla Black, died from a stroke – she was only found four hours after the stroke and the statement released by her family said if she had been found earlier she would probably have lived.Although a stroke is a common and serious condition many people do not know how to determine if they are having one or brush off the early signs thinking the symptoms will go away. A stroke, which occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or a leaking blood vessel, could lead to death or life-changing disabilities.For this reason, ER24 urges people to be aware of the early signs and to react quickly should they suspect a stroke.Dr Lynn Katsoulis, from Boehringer Ingelheim, heads MyStroke, an initiative aimed at establishing accredited stroke units throughout South Africa, said anyone can have a stroke, be it a child or adult. She urged people to react quickly if they experience any sudden and persistent changes, such as sudden limpness on one side, sudden decreased eye sight in one or both eyes, sudden loss of balance, sudden trouble speaking, or sudden onset of a severe and unusual headache or dizziness of unknown cause.If unsure, do the fast test, which entails the following and will detect most strokes:Face - the person suspected of having a stroke should smile or show their teeth. If one side is limp, they could be having a stroke. Arm - the person should raise both arms for five to 10 seconds while their eyes are closed. If one arm is limp or drifts down, they could be having a stroke.Speech - repeat any sentence. If there is trouble understanding or repeating the sentence, the person may be having a stroke.Time - if any of the above is happening, the person must get to the nearest stroke unit or appropriate facility immediately.With fatigue being one of the effects of a stroke, Dr Katsoulis urged patients not to go sleep as they will lose the short period during which the effects of the stroke can be reversed. It is better to be told by an emergency doctor that it was a false alarm than being told it is too late for anything to be done. If an ambulance is called, keep the patient awake and calm while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Do not give them anything to drink or eat. If the patient has collapsed, lie them on their side and make sure their airway is not obstructed. Dr Katsoulis said that about 80% of strokes can be avoided by managing the factors that cause strokes. Risk factors include uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, heart disease such as atrial fibrillation, high waist to hip ratio (large belly), excessive alcohol intake, smoking, ongoing stress and lack of exercise. Healthy living, with moderate exercise and healthy eating habits that minimise sugar, salt and bad fats while increasing good fats, reduce the chances of having a strokeMyStroke, which was established last year, is intended as a platform to facilitate collaboration between all people affected by stroke and to facilitate co-ordination of activities of healthcare practitioners and interested parties. A list of these units, which is being updated continually, can be found on www.mystroke. co.za - Chitra Bodasing, ER24.