Stroke awareness in Singapore low, NUS study finds

A stroke patient using crutches to go to the toilet from the hospital bed of a ward. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
A stroke patient using crutches to go to the toilet from the hospital bed of a ward. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE- Public awareness of stroke is low in Singapore, although it is the second most common cause of disease burden for Singaporeans aged 65 and older.

A recent study led by National University of Singapore medical students found that fewer than 50 percent of Singapore residents could accurately name one stroke symptom. These include slurred speech, weakness in one side of the face or drooping of the corner of the mouth, and one-sided weakness in the arms or legs.

This is significant as a previous study had found that stroke patients take about 20 hours on average before they go to the hospital to get treated, said Dr Deidre Anne De Silva, Senior Consultant of the Department of Neurology at the National Neuroscience Institute.

"If they come later, we might not be able to offer the best rescue therapy and prevent complications," said Dr De Silva.

For example, thrombolysis, or a treatment to breakdown the blood clot in the brain causing the stroke, must be done within four-and-a-half hours of the onset of symptoms. If patients turn up later, doctors can still treat them with a range of medications, but they can do more at earlier stages, Dr De Silva said.

"It's not like heart attack where you have acute pain and seek help immediately," added Dr Lim Wei-Yen, who is from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"Patients might try to sleep it off or go to the polyclinic to seek help, which may not be the best way," he said.

Stroke is a loss of brain function as blood supply to the brain is disrupted, which causes other parts of the body to be affected.

In the NUS study, however, about 20 per cent of respondents said the heart was the source of the problem. Some said that mistakenly that chest pain and breathlessness was a symptom of stroke.

Those with medical conditions pre-disposing them to stroke including diabetes and hypertension did not seem more aware either, the study found, althoug their caregivers fared better.

"A possible reason could be the strong role of family in an individual's medical care in Singapore," said Dr Lim.

Those aged 35 to 54 were more aware of stroke than those 55 and above, although the latter group is at greater risk. However, the study did not find any correlation between higher education levels and greater awareness.

A public education campaign on stroke awareness is needed, said the doctors.

"People need to know that one-sided weakness is an indicator of stroke and they should seek help immediately," Dr Lim said.

The survey polled 700 Singapore residents who lived in Bishan aged 21 and above.