Factors that may increase one’s risk of stroke include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, insufficient exercise, and an unhealthy diet.

A stroke occurs when the supply of oxygenated blood to part of the brain is disrupted either due to a burst blood vessel or a blood clot.

The golden rule when a person has a stroke is for them to get medical attention as soon as possible,” explains Dr Anchen Laubscher, Netcare Hospitals’ medical director. “Often it may not be immediately noticeable that a person is having a stroke, and the patient themselves may have difficulty articulating what they are experiencing.”

“This is why it is vital to increase public awareness about the symptoms associated with stroke and emphasise the importance of getting the patient to a hospital emergency department as quickly as possible for treatment.” A stroke occurs when the supply of oxygenated blood to part of the brain is disrupted either due to a burst blood vessel or a blood clot.

Strokes may range in severity from so-called ‘mini strokes’, which may have only temporary effects, to life-changing disability, or even sudden death. “Every stroke should be treated as a medical emergency, even ‘mini strokes’, also known as transient ischemic attacks, as these can signal that the individual could be at risk of a more serious stroke in the future.”

Dr Laubscher notes that while stroke symptoms can differ greatly depending on which part of the brain has been affected, there are a number of common signs of stroke that are generally recognisable. “When it comes to a possible case of stroke, think ‘FAST’. The acronym FAST can help you to remember what symptoms to look for and what to do in the event of a stroke,” she says.

  • F for ‘Face drooping’ – facial muscles are weak, often causing one side of the face to droop.
  • A for ‘Arm or leg weakness’ – the person may feel weak in one or both of their arms or legs, and may feel numb on one side of their body. They may also have poor coordination with difficulty walking or standing up and may appear drunk.
  • S for ‘Speech difficulty’ – the person may slur words, use words incorrectly or not be able to speak.
  • T for ‘Time to call emergency medical services’, such as Netcare 911 on 082 911. “A person who is having a stroke may also experience a sudden severe headache, and sudden loss of vision or blindness in one or both eyes,” Dr Laubscher adds.

“While anyone can suffer a stroke, there are a number of lifestyle factors that can help to reduce the risk and we encourage the public to discuss their individual stroke risk with a doctor. Factors that may increase one’s risk of stroke include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, insufficient exercise, and an unhealthy diet,” she warns.