Identifying a stroke fast

It is no wonder that the diagnosis of stroke strikes terror in many. After all, stroke is the second-highest cause of premature death and the eighth-highest cause of disability burden here, according to the Singapore Burden of Disease Study 2007.

MK, 42, an executive with a history of hypertension and hyperlipidaemia (high cholesterol levels) who also smokes socially, was worried about having a stroke.

Her 64-year-old mother had recently suffered an ischaemic stroke due to an artery blockage in her brain. Her worry was sharpened by the fact that she had been experiencing intermittent numbness in her right arm for the past few months. MK’s family history of stroke and her own history of hypertension and hyperlipidaemia, coupled with her smoking and drinking habits, have put her at a higher risk of stroke than the average person. After noting her medical history and doing a physical examination, I concluded it was unlikely that her symptom of numbness was due to a stroke.

I taught MK to use the “FAST” mnemonic – facial asymmetry, arm weakness, slurring of speech and time to act – to recognise early signs of stroke and advised her on how to minimise her risk of getting struck by the potentially fatal condition.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor. Those with hypertension have 11/2 times the risk of suffering a stroke, compared with those who consistently have an optimal blood pressure of 120/80mmHg. Hypertension causes the heart to pump harder to circulate blood in the body. This overstretching causes tiny tears and scar tissue that trap cholesterol and causes plaque to form, which then causes arteries to narrow.If left untreated, hypertension can lead to stroke.

(Source: Jun 24, 2014 Mind Your Body, The Straits Times By Dr Ang Lai Lai)