Why knowing the symptoms of a stroke can save your life


Stroke survivors who receive extensive stroke education are much more likely to recognise symptoms of another stroke and seek immediate treatment - a critical factor in determining their prognosis.

New U.S research which studied nearly 1,200 Hispanic, black and white survivors of mild stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA). Their average age was 63 and they all received educational material about recognising and reacting to stroke symptoms.

Some of the patients also underwent in-hospital group sessions in which they practised how to describe stroke symptoms to emergency medical services workers and watched videos from stroke survivors on preparedness.

Infographic: What to do if someone is having a stroke

49% got to a hospital in under three hours

Over five years of follow-up, 224 of the patients had another stroke or experienced stroke-like symptoms. Forty-two percent of those patients arrived at an emergency department within three hours.

Only 28 percent of patients in the study had gone to the ER within three hours when they had their first stroke or TIA. So, the stroke education led to a 49 percent improvement in the rate of people getting to the hospital quickly. Among Hispanics, there was a 63 percent increase, the researchers noted.

That time frame is important because the clot-busting drug tPA works best within three hours of the start of stroke symptoms.

The study was published June 11 in the journal Stroke.

Read: Stroke - why you need to get help in 3 hours

South Africa's stroke crisis

In South Africa, stroke education is desperately needed. In 2008, stroke and other cerebrovascular diseases were the 5th leading cause of natural death in the country, according to a report by Statistics South Africa. Women are particularly at risk with stroke being the second highest cause of death amongst South African females, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation's website.

A recent Health24 poll found that that 80% of respondents did not know the early signs of stroke. This emphasises the need for greater awareness of the symptoms as well as knowledge on the correct emergency procedure to ensure the patient receives treatment as quickly as possible. Patients ideally need to go to a specialist stroke unit or a government hospital with a stroke unit. If the patient does not have access to either of these facilities, a government hospital equipped to deal with stroke is the patient's best bet.

Read more:

Stroke is a leading killer in South Africa

Real-life story: what it feels like to have a stroke

"Clot-grabbing" improves stroke outcome for patients

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