'Silent killer' could claim 2,000 in UAE by next year - don't be a stat

Number of stroke cases are rising (File)

Health experts in the UAE are raising the alarm to warn people of a ‘silent killer’ that could claim 2,000 lives by 2017.

‎The issue is further gaining critical urgency due to a lack of expertise in physicians who are failing to diagnose the condition or the symptoms that could also lead to permanent disability.

At the second Stroke Academy held in Dubai this week, ‎health experts from across the Mena region discussed the alarming rise in the number of stroke patients, which has emerged as the fifth leading cause of death in people aged 15 to 59 years.

The outcome of the session also set in motion the inclusion of the UAE in the 'Angels Initiative' by Boehringer Ingelheim, which serves as a global guideline for ‎physicians and caregivers to follow a standardised system in facilitating acute care for stroke patients in the region.

‎Speaking at the session, Dubai Health Authority's Dr Suhail Abdulla Al-Rukn, Consultant Neurologist, Head of Stroke Programme and Director of Neurology Reisdiency Programme, Rashid Hospital spoke about the UAE's alarming rise in stroke patients and the lack of awareness amidst the public and primary caregivers.

"The numbers speak for themselves," he stressed. "By 2030, the world will see 12 million stroke deaths and 70 million stroke survivors.

"In the UAE, we currents have 10,000 stroke patients per year. And if this is not tackled immediately with the right care, then by 2017, the mortality rate will hit 2,000."

UAE gets a health check

According to the US-based National Stroke Association, a stroke is described as a "brain attack", which occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off.

When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die, resulting in patients losing abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control are lost.

Dr Al-Rukn explained: "Within the first minute of a stroke, 2m brain cells die.

"Within an hour, a patient ages 3.6 years; and when the stroke is complete, a 60-year-old will have aged decades."

According to statistics, 8,000 people are admitted to UAE hospitals every year because of a stroke, with the average age of a patient being 45 years; the global average is 65 years.

Cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and lifestyle choices such as smoking - especially shisha - is curbing the lifespan of patients by nearly two decades in the country.

Health experts say the devastation caused by a stroke can be contained by understanding the condition and maintaining lifestyle checks.

Dr Nooshin Bazargani, board member of the World Heart Federation and Chair of the Prevention Working Group of Emirates Cardiac Society shed light on Atrial Fibrillation (AF) or irregular heartbeats, one of the main cardiovascular diseases causing stroke.

She explained: "One-third of patients with AF have no symptoms. Due to the lack of awareness within the public and the lack of expertise amongst general physicians, the signs leading to a stroke are rarely detected.

"According to a Gulf-wide registry in 2010, the mean age of UAE residents with AF was 57 years, while the western average is 67 years.

"Today, it is estimated that the number of patients in the UAE with AF stands at 90,000 compared to a population of 9m."

Dr Bazargani said something as simple as checking your pulse for six seconds for irregular rhythm could save your life.

Dr Mostafa Al Shamiri, Head of Adult Cardiology and Consultant Cardiologist at King Fahad Cardiac Centre in Saudi Arabia further explained: "Two out of three people suffering with AF can be saved.

"Get regular check ups, especially if you suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity or other lifestyle diseases. Check your pulse for six seconds and if there is an irregular rhythm, get yourself checked."

The UAE currently has 50 beds across four certifiable stroke centres - Rashid Hospital, Saudi German Hospital, Al Ain Hospital and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

Dr Al-Rukn added: "According to current estimates, every hour a person suffers from a stroke in the UAE. Hence, we are working on a registry and a standardized guideline in recognition, treatment and care."

So what should you do if you suspect a loved one is suffering from a stroke?

“You call the paramedics immediately and wait for help to arrive,” said Dr Al-Rukn. “I can't implore enough for patients to ignore old wives tales of rubbing pigeon blood on stroke victims or what not.

"Nor do you need to prick fingers, ears to alleviate pressure. Simply allow paramedics to provide the medical care needed."

Quiz the doctor if a medical app is in the works to facilitate a registry for patients at high risk of stroke and he replied: "We are currently working on the lines to create one. Every minute counts in saving lives."

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