Although stroke is the 3rd leading cause of death in Singapore, many myths surround this condition. Knowing the facts can help you respond appropriately and promptly during the event of a stroke.
MYTH: Strokes only happen to older people
FACT: Strokes can strike any one at any age. While it is true that the risk of stroke increases with age, it is dangerous to think that a stroke cannot happen to a young person, and to ignore the symptoms when they occur. It is also important to note risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity, and to make the necessary lifestyle changes such as exercising well and eating right.
MYTH: Strokes occur in the heart
FACT: Strokes occur in the brain. A stroke happens when blood supply to part of the brain via the blood vessels (arteries) is suddenly disrupted or severely reduced, leading to deprivation of oxygen and nutrients in the brain tissue. This causes the death of brain cells and may result in permanent injury or disability, depending on the part of brain affected.
Myth: Small strokes do not need medical attention
FACT: Every stroke, no matter how minor, requires immediate medical attention. Some people may experience a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), where the blood supply to the brain is temporarily interrupted due to a transient blood clot. This causes a ‘mini-stroke’ with symptoms occurring rapidly and lasting for a relatively short time. People who experience TIA should regard this as a serious warning sign and seek immediate medical assistance to prevent the occurrence of a subsequent major stroke.
MYTH: Strokes never happen in infants
FACT: Stroke can strike anyone, including infants. In younger patients, stroke may occur due to congenital heart disease or due to autoimmune disease where the syndrome results in blood clotting irregularities.
MYTH: Severe headache is a sign of a stroke
FACT: A headache can be due to many reasons and is usually not a sign of a stroke. However, some strokes may result in sudden severe headaches. A stroke severe enough to cause a headache will always be large enough to cause other stroke symptoms. Headaches due to a sudden bleed are severe and are accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, light vomiting and sudden light sensitivity.
MYTH: Strokes cannot be prevented
FACT: Many of the risk factors for stroke can be affected by lifestyle change or medication. Managing your high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, heart disease and diabetes are all ways to reduce your chances of having a stroke. Other preventive measures include not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and controlling your weight.
Information contributed by Dr Ho King Hee, Neurologist, Gleneagles Hospital.
- Ministry of Health, Principal Causes of Death, Retrieved 2016 https://www.moh.gov.sg/content/moh_web/home/statistics/Health_Facts_Singapore/Principal_Causes_of_Death.html
- BMJ. 1992 Feb 15; 304(6824): 405–412. Medical Research Council trial of treatment of hypertension in older adults: principal results. MRC Working Party
- Cillessen JP, Kappelle LJ, van Sweiten JC, Algra A, van Gijn J. Does cerebral infarction after a previous warning occur in the same vascular territory. Stroke 1993;24:351-4, Johnston SC, Gress DR, Browner WS, Sidney S. Short-term prognosis after emergency department diagnosis of TIA. JAMA 2000;284:2901-6
- Rothwell PM, Giles MF, Chandratheva A, et al. Effect of urgent treatment of transient ischaemic attack and minor stroke on early recurrent stroke (EXPRESS study): a prospective population-based sequential comparison. Lancet 2007;370(9596):1432-42