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By Orville Williams

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Speaking in the context of Stroke Awareness Month, Consultant Neurologist at the Mount St John’s Medical Center (MSJMC), Dr Gaden Osborne, is urging people in Antigua and Barbuda to treat stroke symptoms with the utmost urgency, to prevent significant damage and challenging rehabilitation.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has long called for a global response to the stroke epidemic, with cerebrovascular accidents considered a leading cause of death across the world.

That call is especially important for countries considered low-income, as strokes usually occur several years earlier and cause more deaths of people living in these countries.

Speaking on Observer AM earlier this week, Dr Osborne explained that a lot of stroke victims in the country suffer damage – not necessarily from the stroke itself – but from the lack of urgency that is applied when the symptoms occur.

“It happens quite often. I don’t mean to be funny, but a lot of times in [Antigua and Barbuda] we find people think that their symptoms are due to [things like] gas. You have no idea how many times I’ve heard that.

“Another common statement is, ‘my hand felt like it was asleep and I thought I slept bad or I had damage to my neck or something, so I’m just going to wait it out and go to the doctor whenever I can get an appointment,” he said.

The board-certified neurologist also explained that, unlike some other serious illnesses, incidences of stroke must be dealt with by emergency medical personnel from the onset.

“These are serious symptoms and they should be attended to urgently in the emergency department. So, not in a doctor’s office, not at the urgent care, [but] at the emergency department.

“[Persons] should not be driving, they should not ask someone to take them to the hospital, [instead] the EMS should be mobilised so that they can come to the hospital immediately.”

Dealing with a stroke in the moment is understandably very important, but rehabilitation after a stroke is also viewed as a critical element in the whole process.

Head of the MSJMC’s Rehabilitation Department, Dr Andre Peters, weighed in on this matter, explaining that rehabilitation is imperative to avoid any lasting effects from the initial stroke.

“[Rehab] is crucial actually, [as] it can help to reduce disability following a stroke. The crucial period – according to research – is zero to three months and we can actually start rehab as soon as the patient is stable, after the medical team has done what they need to do.

“We can start, on average, 24 to 48 hours following that [and both] research and personal observations show that patients that benefit from rehab actually achieve the greatest results within the first six months. [Also], studies have shown that even up to a year [or] 18 months post the stroke, a patient can still show some improvements.”

May is recognised in many territories as Stroke Awareness Month, with medical professionals reiterating the call each year for more emphasis on the symptoms and treatment of the disease.

Some effective prevention strategies for stroke include addressing modifiable issues such as diabetes and hypertension, while risks caused by certain lifestyle factors – such as obesity, poor diet and smoking – can also be addressed.