Stroke is sudden weakness of an arm, or leg, sudden blindness, sudden confusion, sudden problems with speaking, difficulty walking, sudden severe headaches, sudden collapse and death. Stroke is due to blockage of a blood vessel carrying blood to the brain, leading to injury or death of that part of the brain. Stroke also occurs when a blood vessel bursts open inside the brain. This is why it occurs ‘suddenly’ as the tap carrying food to the brain gets turned off! In both situations, the brain does not get the food and oxygen it requires.
Stroke: Time is brain
Stroke, is an emergency and requires immediate action to prevent brain damage and death. Stroke causes injury because vital nutrients are not delivered to the brain; and so brain tissue dies. This happens in real strokes, but there are also minor strokes, partial strokes in which the brain does not die or become permanently injured. These people recover almost perfect function. But, see below.
Stroke: Big or small
Minor strokes, mini-strokes, small strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are one and the same. TIAs are common events characterized by stroke symptoms that completely resolve. They were previously thought to be benign but research over the past decade has revealed the high risk of further strokes in these patients. Having a TIA is a risk factor for having a major stroke.
TIAs and strokes cause the same symptoms, such as paralysis (opposite side of body from the affected part of the brain) or sudden weakness or numbness. A TIA may also cause sudden dimming or loss of vision slurred speech and mental confusion. But unlike a stroke, the symptoms of a TIA can resolve within a few minutes or 24 hours. Brain injury may still occur in a TIA lasting only a few minutes, therefore it should not be ignored by patients, relatives or doctors. Small stroke is a warning from God!
Stroke is common in Nigeria
Every Nigerian knows someone within their family, on their street, at their place of work, village or town who has suffered a stroke. Stroke is next door and coming to a street near you! It is the most popular horror movie in life. That someone hale and hearty could suddenly go blind, deaf, become mute, have weakness on one side and die without prior warning is your worst nightmare. Stroke is a devastating illness, which maims and kills Nigerians daily.
Is there stroke in your family?
Has a member of your family suffered a stroke? Mine have, in large numbers. Many people in my family have suffered devastating strokes and I am trying everyday to prevent stroke in myself. I run, jog, do sports, exercise and watch what I eat on a daily basis. Any indulgence, eating the biggest meat in the pot, the most amount of food, fat or oily food etc is frowned at in my family.
The risk of further strokes in higher in families with a history of stroke. If your father, brother or sister has had a stroke, be very careful. Similarly, history of hypertension, diabetes and heart attacks are important as risk factors for stroke in the family.
Can you afford a stroke?
We are not managing stroke well at all. We do not have the emergency numbers and ambulance services to deliver patients to hospitals within an hour of a stroke, so doctors can at least try to reopen the blocked vessels in the brain. We do not have the clot bursting drugs for removing the obstruction. Brain scans and other required tests cost an arm and a leg (pun intended). We do not have the means to investigate and treat acute stroke without asking for money.
So, if you come to one of Nigeria’s premier hospitals without as much as N100, 000 (One hundred thousand Naira), you may not get the immediate life saving care you need. Many come with just prayers and a breath expecting miracles.
Open a stroke account
It is vital to prevent stroke. If you don’t, you might as well open an account where you can save money should you suffer a stroke! The minimum deposit is N100, 000 but please save as much as N3, 000, 000. (three million Naira only). Regardless, just because you can afford it, is no excuse to have a stroke! What if you cannot write a cheque or even remember the account password? So, please look after your blood pressure, control diabetes, stop smoking, lose weight, exercise and keep fit.
Dr Biodun Ogungbo, Consultant Neurosurgeon in Abuja is a UK General Medical Council Registered Specialist in Neurosurgery and Nigerian Medical and Dental Council registered Surgeon. He has extensive surgical repertoire in elective and emergency surgery. He supports medical education and is active in health advocacy. He is interested in stroke and spine problems and has written extensively about these conditions.