A stroke can happen unexpectedly in an instant and change someone’s life forever. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 225 South Africans die from stroke and heart disease daily, while 10 people suffer a stroke every hour. This often leaves survivors with long-term disabilities.
In observance of Stroke Awareness Day on 28 October and Stroke Awareness Week from October 28 to 3 November, Dis-Chem Pharmacies’ clinic executive Lizeth Kruger encourages South Africans to prioritise their cardiovascular health.
“Stroke and heart disease are known as the biggest killers globally after HIV and Aids and are closely linked by the risk factors they share. A direct connection is found in the build-up of fatty substances in the arteries and the accumulation of plaque blocking the blood flow. The progressive blocking of blood vessels caused by plaque can cause a heart attack or stroke, which will eventually cause death from these conditions if not treated on time,” says Kruger.
Knowing and keeping track of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels is one of the key steps in reducing the risk of stroke and maintaining good health.
Prevention is better than cure
Kruger advises on effective steps to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and stroke:
Go for regular health screenings
Regular health check-ups with a clinic nurse can help identify risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. These conditions can be managed effectively with early detection, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation reports that about 80% of heart diseases and strokes can be prevented. Strokes are often called “brain attacks,” and they occur when the blood supply to a part of the brain is disrupted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from receiving nutrients and oxygen.
Heart problems are common among individuals with a history of stroke and can worsen during both the acute phase and the recovery period. For those diagnosed with heart disease, attending all recommended medical appointments and adhering to all recommended lifestyle changes is important.
Obesity and accompanying complications, such as diabetes, are major controllable risk factors for both heart diseases and strokes. People with diabetes should focus on proper management and control of their condition, as uncontrolled diabetes can increase the risk of these conditions.
Avoid smoking and limit alcohol intake
Not using tobacco products, being exposed to smoke, and moderating alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular issues. Smoking increases blood pressure, contributes to the formation of blood clots, decreases good cholesterol, and is the major risk factor in the development of heart disease and the increased risk of having a stroke.
Exercise and manage stress
Chronic stress can contribute to heart disease and stroke. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises. Engage in 30 minutes of heart-boosting exercise at least five days a week to decrease the likelihood of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
Eat healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the cornerstone of stroke and heart disease prevention. Follow a balanced and heart-healthy diet low in saturated fat, sodium (salt), and added sugar. Following a diet full of fruits, whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, and vegetables and limiting red and processed meats can significantly reduce the risk of both conditions.
For those who have experienced a stroke, it is imperative to prioritise regular rehabilitation check-ups and holistic care. Physical, speech, and occupational therapy are crucial to the recovery process. Furthermore, adhering to prescribed medications to prevent further strokes, manage blood pressure, control cholesterol levels, and adopt a healthy lifestyle are even more critical after a stroke. Emotional and psychological support is equally important for stroke survivors, and seeking this support from family and friends, who play a pivotal role in facilitating the recovery process, is essential.
“In our Dis-Chem wellness clinics, we continually emphasise the importance of proactive measures to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Through awareness, education, and access to quality healthcare services, we empower individuals to start their own journey towards better health, and a key step is to take charge of their cardiovascular health,” concludes Kruger.
Through working together to raise awareness about stroke, we can all make a difference and help keep hearts beating strong.
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