The world has witnessed a significant surge in the incidence of strokes, sending shockwaves through healthcare systems and communities worldwide.

A recent study published in the Lancet1, cited neurological conditions, like stroke, migraine, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Stroke represents the most significant health challenge in terms of disease burden, leading to a substantial loss of healthy life years. Not only does stroke profoundly affect individuals and their families, but it also imposes a considerable financial burden on society.

According to the World Stroke Organisation (WSO), the estimated global cost of stroke alone is over US$721 billion (0.66% of the global GDP). From 1990 to 2019, the burden (in terms of the absolute number of cases) increased substantially (70.0% increase in incident strokes, 43.0% deaths from stroke, 102.0% prevalent strokes and 143.0% disability-adjusted life-years lost – DALYs), with the bulk of the global stroke burden (86.0% of deaths and 89.0% of DALYs) residing in lower-income and lower-middle-income countries (LMIC).

The rise in stroke cases has prompted health experts to delve deeper into the underlying factors driving this alarming trend and to educate the public on effective strategies to reduce their risk of suffering from this debilitating condition.

Ryan Snodgrass, Cardiovascular Category Manager for Pharma Dynamics, says several factors contribute to the increasing incidence of strokes on a global scale. “One of the primary culprits is the rising prevalence of non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity. These conditions, often exacerbated by sedentary lifestyles and poor dietary habits, significantly elevate an individual’s risk of experiencing a stroke.

“Another factor is the aging population demographics in many countries, which play a pivotal role in the uptick of stroke cases. As life expectancy increases and medical advancements allow people to live longer, the likelihood of age-related health issues, including strokes, also rises.

“Socioeconomic disparities and unequal access to healthcare also exacerbate the stroke burden in low- and middle-income countries, like South Africa. Limited resources and inadequate infrastructure hinder timely diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation efforts, leaving many individuals vulnerable to the devastating consequences of strokes.”

He emphasises the need for comprehensive preventive measures to curb the escalating stroke epidemic and says educating the public about risk factors and promoting lifestyle modifications can significantly reduce the incidence of strokes. Approximately, 80% of chronic diseases and premature death can be prevented by making healthier lifestyle choices.

Snodgrass recommends the following actions to lower the risk of stroke:

  1. Monitor blood pressure and cholesterol: High blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels are major risk factors for strokes. Regular monitoring of these vital signs and adherence to prescribed medications can prevent complications and reduce the likelihood of experiencing a stroke.
  2. Maintain a healthy diet and exercise: Adopting a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins can help control weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, swimming or cycling, is also crucial for maintaining cardiovascular health and managing your weight.
  3. Quit smoking: Smoking significantly increases the risk of stroke by damaging blood vessels and promoting the formation of blood clots. Quitting smoking can yield immediate and long-term benefits for heart health.
  4. Limit alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can raise blood pressure and contribute to the development of heart disease and stroke. Moderation is key, with healthcare professionals recommending no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
  5. Manage diabetes: Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of suffering from strokes due to elevated blood sugar levels that damage blood vessels over time. Proper management of diabetes through medication, diet and regular monitoring is essential for preventing complications.

He says in addition to individual efforts, addressing the broader societal determinants of health is crucial for reducing the global burden of strokes.

“Governments and policymakers must prioritise public health initiatives aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles, improving access to healthcare services and implementing population-wide interventions to tackle the root causes of non-communicable diseases.

“By raising awareness, implementing preventive measures and fostering collaboration between healthcare professionals, policymakers and communities, we can strive towards a future where strokes are less prevalent and individuals can lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. It is imperative that we act decisively and collectively to stem the tide of this growing public health crisis before it exacts an even greater toll in our country and on societies worldwide,” says Snodgrass.

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