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Stroke: The New Health Epidemic That is Going Unseen

It hits suddenly, when people least expect it, and when it does, it hits hard, and most often, with little reprieve. Stroke in India, and in fact, in the world, is unfortunately getting to be more common than it was a quarter of a century ago.

“While we have no official numbers for this, rough estimates suggest that in India, the numbers for stroke stood at 5-10 per 1,00,000, 25-30 years ago. Today, we have 100-120 people per lakh. Conditions like obesity, diabetes and hypertension predispose our population to stroke, especially because these set in 10 years earlier in India than they do in the West. This is worsened by poor lifestyle habits, such as smoking, sleep deprivation, an unhealthy diet and all the stress we take in our industrialized world today,” says Dr StrokeShamsher Dwivedee, Chairman,Neurology, VimhansPrimaMed Super Speciality Hospital,New Delhi.

A stroke takes place when the arteries to the brain are affected. They are blocked, because of which blood may not reach a part of the brain. This may take place by either a clot in the artery or a rupture. People living with certain kinds of health problems are more vulnerable to stroke. Those living with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have strokes, while high blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke. Stroke risk also increases with age, especially in women. In fact, worldwide, it kills more women than men. However, what worries doctors is that younger people are coming in with stroke today, simply because of poor lifestyle choices.

“Unlike a heart attack, a brain attack is often much more difficult to recover from. The loss to the family is great, as the person is often left disabled or left less productive, the cost of rehabilitation is a lot, and the burden to the nation needs to be taken into account, in terms of both human potential and monetary loss. The best way to avoid a stroke is simply to lead a life that is healthy: quit smoking, restrict alcohol, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and reduce stress. Yearly medical check-ups to ensure that the numbers are in check (diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol), and more frequent doctor monitoring if any conditions already exist, can help to minimize the stroke complication,” says Dr Dwivedee.

Besides prevention, the country also needs stroke awareness, so that people can get to a hospital in time, to save lives and so the stroke causes minimal damage. Typical stroke symptoms are detected through FAST: Face drooping, Arm weakening, Speech difficulty, Time to call emergency. “Keeping this information at the top of the mind can help many people reach the hospital in time,”says Dr Dwivedee.The focus of neurologists at Vimhans is now: creating an awareness for risk reduction, quick detection and diagnosis and appropriate management.

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