Act fast when stroke strikes

With every passing minute that the blood supply to the brain is disrupted during a stroke, more brain cells are damaged. Hence quick treatment is important to reduce the loss of brain cells, say experts.

This is why timing is the focus of this year's annual stroke awareness campaign by the Ministry of Health's Stroke Services Improvement (SSI) team.

Titled Timing Is Everything, it will run till next month, focusing on the importance of acting fast the moment that signs of stroke are spotted.

"The campaign calls into focus the important role time plays. In stroke, time is brain and minutes matter," says Associate Professor Deidre Anne De Silva, head and senior consultant at the department of neurology at the National Neuroscience Institute (Singapore General Hospital Campus) and chairman of the SSI team.

To spot a stroke and help the person, experts say think of F.A.S.T:

Face drooping

Arm weakness

Speech difficulty

Time to call 995

Dr Wee Chee Keong, a neurologist at private clinic Capernaum Neurology, says ischaemic stroke comprises about 80 per cent of all stroke cases, while haemorrhagic stroke makes up the rest.

Ischaemic stroke occurs when blood flow through an artery that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain becomes blocked, while haemorrhagic stroke happens when an artery in the brain leaks blood or ruptures.

Treatment for ischaemic stroke includes dissolving the blood clot causing the blockage with medication or mechanically removing the clot.

For haemorrhagic stroke, the treatment focuses on controlling the bleeding in the brain and reducing the pressure caused by the bleeding.

Patients may experience muscle weakness, paralysis, stiffness or changes in sensation, usually on one side of the body. These effects can make it difficult to move some parts of the body, and patients may struggle with everyday activities.

A patient will usually have to undergo rehabilitation to improve his or her ability to perform daily activities and reduce complications.

Up to 80 per cent of strokes are preventable by making lifestyle changes, including having a healthy diet and exercising regularly, notes Dr Tu Tian Ming, a senior consultant at the National Neuroscience Institute's department of neurology.

Other lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and maintaining a healthy body weight are also proven to reduce the incidence of stroke, say doctors.

Aside from SSI's Timing Is Everything campaign, other stroke advocacy groups are also stepping up to raise awareness of the disease.

Stroke Support Station (S3), a charitable organisation that supports rehabilitation for stroke survivors, is focusing on caregiving and family care to support stroke survivors' recovery.

For instance, during the Covid-19 pandemic, S3 pivoted its wellness programmes to go virtual on Zoom, with the Re-Learn and Enjoy Active Living wellness programme for stroke survivors and caregivers. It encourages fitness training, general strengthening and cognitive stimulation through interactive classes such as fitness and music therapy.

The Singapore National Stroke Association also launched its annual Stepping Out For Stroke campaign last month to advocate for exercise and increased physical activity to reduce the risk of stroke.

It also offers online activities such as educational talks and group exercise classes for stroke survivors and caregivers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2021, with the headline 'Act fast when stroke strikes'. Subscribe