Stroke is the second biggest killer of women in South Africa. It is estimated that about 150 women suffer a stroke in South Africa every day. That is a stroke every 10 minutes. These statistics alone highlight the massive impact of stroke on women. This is why the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA (HSF) is joining forces with the World Stroke Organisation in its global campaign: “I am woman, stroke affects me” to raise awareness about stroke in women.
A stroke is also known as a “brain attack” and can injure the brain like a heart attack can injure the heart. It happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted. When that happens, part of the brain doesn’t get the blood and oxygen it needs, causing damage and results in the person experiencing the symptoms of stroke. Stroke doesn’t discriminate; it affects us all, so why do women have a higher stroke mortality rate than men?
“Women are more likely to die when suffering a stroke than men. In fact, every year, 4000 more South African women die because of a stroke than men and our unhealthy lifestyles are largely to blame,” says Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA. “Up to 70% of our women are overweight or obese and almost half of our women are physically inactive which increases their risk of having a stroke.”
Added to this, high blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for strokes and 1 in 3 women in South Africa have high blood pressure. It is vital that South Africans regularly check their blood pressure and lower their salt intake as a high salt diet is a key contributor to high blood pressure.
“The statistics are worrying,” says Dr Mungal-Singh. “But by making small changes to your lifestyle, you can vastly reduce your chances of having a stroke in the first place. Up to 80% of stroke and heart disease can be prevented by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle,” she says.
When asked why more South African women are dying of strokes than men, this is what Professor Alan Bryer, Head of the Division of Neurology and of the Stroke Unit at Groote Schuur Hospital and the University of Cape Town had to say:
“Women share the traditional risk factors for suffering a stroke with men. However, more women than men suffer from migraines with aura, atrial fibrillation, depression, emotional stress, metabolic syndrome and obesity. These factors increase the risk of a stroke. In addition, there are gender specific risk factors that can further explain the higher incidence of strokes in women. These include high blood pressure during pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy and contraceptives. Lastly, smoking interacts with these gender specific risk factors to make women more susceptible to suffering a stroke.”
Professor Bryer’s remarks are aligned with the American Stroke Association Guidelines and Dr Mungal-Singh echoes his sentiments.
Additionally, the Global Stroke Bill of Rights was launched on 21 October at the Opening Ceremony of the 9th World Stroke Congress in Istanbul. The document identifies the aspects of care that are important for all stroke survivors and caregivers from across the world.
World Stroke Organisation (WSO) President Stephen Davis states, “It is now time that all stroke patients and caregivers around the world have their own Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights forms the basis to ensure that every patient has access to all elements of appropriate stroke care, to optimise their best chance of survival and recovery. The WSO is calling on governments, ministries of health and healthcare systems, with the support of key opinion leaders and stroke advocates, to rise to this challenge and ensure that the Bill of Rights is fully supported and implemented.”
To support the launch of the stroke Bill of Rights, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is also launching an online stroke manual, ‘My stroke: a practical manual for stroke patients’. A first in South Africa, the manual was developed in partnership with Professor Bryer and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and is a comprehensive resource to support stroke survivors and their families. The manual and Bill of Rights are both available online on the HSF’s website: www.heartfoundation.co.za.