Stroke: cause of premature deaths - Dr Dacosta Aboagye

BY: Doreen Andoh
Dr Dacosta Aboagye

Did you know that making healthy lifestyle choices such as healthy diets, physical activities and healthy weights can reduce your risk of getting a stroke by 90 per cent? 

That, doctors said, was because 90 per cent of stroke risk factors were lifestyle-based and hence modifiable.
Health experts say there are risk factors that are uncontrollable such as age, genetics, race, gender etc. but they only contributed to 10 % of risk factors.

Unfortunately, although 90 per cent preventable, the medical condition is the second leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the country and globally.

The Director of Health Promotion Division of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Dacosta Aboagye, has said lifestyle factors that increase your risk of stroke are predominantly high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high blood cholesterol levels, heavy drinking, and intake of high salt and high fat diet and lack of exercise.

“Uncontrolled blood pressure is the most consistent cause of stroke in Ghana. It contributes about 70 per cent of all cases.
“The best way to help prevent a stroke is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol. These lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of problems such as arteries becoming clogged with fatty substances (atherosclerosis) and high blood pressure,” he said.

Dr Aboagye said with the increasing incidence of uncontrolled hypertension in Ghana, there had been a sharp rise in the number of stroke patients, indicating that the medical condition was occurring 15 years earlier among the Ghanaian population due to unhealthy lifestyles.
He said although the global prevalence average age is 70, most patients in Ghana were basically between 40 and 60 years but said a few of the patients were even younger than that indicating that the vulnerability net was wider.

Providing highlights on stroke, Dr Aboagye said a stroke was a neurological emergency that required prompt attention.

A stroke is a serious medical condition where the blood supply to the brain is disrupted, either through a blockage (ischemic stroke) or a rupture (haemorrhagic stroke).
It has been described as a medical emergency that required urgent medical attention in order to prevent serious, long-lasting and life threatening damage.

Paralysis on one side of the body and difficulty with communication are major signs of the condition.
He said stroke happened when blood supply to the brain was cut off because of blood clot when a brain artery got raptured resulting in haemorrhage.

Risk factors
Dr Aboagye noted that the key risk factors of stroke included predominantly high blood pressure or hypertension and obesity, cautioning that hypertension was the leading risk factor accounting for most stroke cases in the country.

He said high blood pressure affected many Ghanaians with majority not knowing they had the condition.
Explaining how high blood pressure triggered stroke, he said a consistently high blood pressure made the circulatory system to work harder than its normal job of moving blood around the body and said that extra job could lead to damage of blood vessels in the brain.
If blood pressure was also high consistently, it could cause the blood vessels to burst leading to haemorrhagic stroke.

He mentioned the causes of hypertension as including inactivity; overweight or obesity; high cholesterol; regular and heavy use of alcohol; tobacco smoking; foods high in salt, sugar fats and stress.

“Limiting salt (sodium) in your diet can also lower your blood pressure and being physically active will help to keep a healthy blood pressure,” he added.
Dr Aboagye said, according to national health projection, everyone was vulnerable and one in every four persons globally would have the condition in a life time if risk factors such as keeping healthy blood pressure were not taken seriously.

As a result of severe stroke, patients may display cognitive decline, which may progress to dementia (usually vascular dementia).
Other symptoms may include complete paralysis of one side of the body, confusion, language comprehension difficulties, and loss of vision, motor coordination and balance irregularities, dysphagia and sometimes an extremely sudden onset of severe headache.

The symptoms of stroke are variable, depending on what part of the brain is affected. However, some general symptoms to look for can be summarised by FAST:
F - Face - Stroke can cause paralysis of the facial muscles that may present as drooping of the face on one side and an inability to smile.
A - Arms - Weakness, heaviness and numbness in the upper body limbs may affect the ability to lift one or both arms.
S - Speech - Speech may be slurred, garbled or completely absent.
T - Time - Time is a vital parameter in stroke patients. The earlier a patient receives medical attention, the less risk there is of potentially devastating consequences.