Speedy treatment for strokes is critical

A new hospital unit is welcome, but all of us – especially emergency room staff – should be able to identify the symptoms of stroke.

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A stroke occurs when the brain is damaged after being deprived of blood by a blockage or a haemorrhage in the blood vessels. While strokes are often regarded as a by-product of advanced age, stroke patients in the UAE tend to be much younger than in Europe and other comparable regions. While most strokes in Europe occur in people aged between 60 and 75, in the Emirates the danger period is between the ages of 40 and 55 - which many people view as the prime of life.

It's welcome news that medical professionals and health authorities are taking the incidence of stroke seriously and are investing resources and expertise in the area. To that end, a dedicated stroke treatment centre will open at Al Qasimi Hospital in Sharjah early next year.

As The National reported yesterday, the new centre will have the latest equipment for the emergency treatment and rehabilitation of these patients. More importantly, it will have dedicated staff and streamlined, rehearsed procedures.

According to Dr Gunther Wihl, a consultant neurologist at The City Hospital in Dubai, professional treatment is essential to the recovery chances of stroke patients.

The time between the incident and the commencement of treatment is crucial: the shorter the better, but certainly it must occur within the first four-and-a-half hours for the patient to have a positive prognosis.

Many people recover completely or with minor disabilities, but stroke can be permanently disabling or fatal if it is not treated properly and quickly by people who know what they are doing.

The facility in Sharjah will be the second specialist centre in the UAE; the other is at Dubai's Rashid Hospital. As Dr Wihl points out, the nation needs more of them. There is also an urgent need for triage staff in all hospitals to be trained to recognise stroke patients on arrival at the emergency room, and to fast-track them for critical care.

Even with professional help at hand when it is needed, it is also important for people to know the symptoms of stroke, which can include, but are not limited to, sudden headache, loss of speech, numbness or paralysis down one side of the body, and confusion.

While it may be something of a cliché when it comes to medical advice, this is an occasion when swift action really will save lives.