‘We aren’t actually living our best health lives’ - A doctor weighs in on strokes in younger people

‘We aren’t actually living our best health lives’ - A doctor weighs in on strokes in younger people
Lira shares that it has been a year since she suffered a stroke.
Lira shares that it has been a year since she suffered a stroke.
Photo: Frennie Shivambu/Gallo Images

It has officially been one year since South Africa’s songbird Lira suffered a debilitating stroke in Germany that left her unable to speak, read or write.

In March 2022, the 44-year-old Feel Good songstress felt an unfamiliar sensation and she was unable to communicate at all.

“I walked into a restaurant, but I couldn’t talk – I moved my mouth, but words couldn’t come out. When I realised this, I just broke down. The staff at the restaurant offered me a seat. I couldn’t communicate.  I thought about asking them the direction to my hotel, it was nearby - I couldn’t communicate that. Once I stopped crying and got myself together, I left. It took me 2 hours to find my hotel,” she recounts in a post on her official Instagram and Facebook page.

According to a Discovery study, different types of strokes occur from bleeding or blood clots in the brain and can lead to changes in thinking and memory abilities in young people with underlying genetic conditions like dementia.

Strokes are becoming more and more prevalent in young people, and Lira hasn’t been the only one.

The last thing Bomikazi Pooe* vaguely remembers about 18 September 2018 was a conversation with a classmate about an upcoming assignment. The next thing, she felt pins and needles in her left leg followed by numbness on her lips and stifled words stuck in her dry mouth.

She’d had pins and needles on her left leg before, accompanied by dizzy spells that would last a split second, so she dismissed that Wednesday afternoon’s symptoms as just another fleeting health woe. All this happened within a matter of seconds.

“Life as we know it can literally change within a matter of seconds. I’d been feeling particularly good and wasn’t my usual panicky self. Upon arrival at the hospital, I was told that I’d had a stroke but that, luckily, I had arrived in time for the doctors to administer a clot-detangling drug called Tissue Plasminogen Activator (TPA),” Pooe recalls.

Aggrieved at the news, mostly about what the aftermath of a stroke would mean for her busy and cool life, the 35-year-old couldn’t believe that she was listening to a medical report about her own life!

READ MORE | This is why black women should get their blood pressure tested regularly

“TPA is a drug used to shrink or possibly break up the blood clots blocking the flow of blood in the brain,” says Joburg-based Physician Dr Nthabiseng Kumalo.

However, she warns that not all stroke patients are eligible for TPA. Patients who suffer ischemic strokes — one of the most common types — can benefit from this medication. However, a brain scan needs to be done before TPA is administered, because certain medical conditions place patients on the high-risk list.

“For instance, patients with a hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain), brain aneurysms, recent surgical procedures, head injuries, bleeding or blood clotting disorders, pregnancy, blood-thinning medication or uncontrolled hypertension won’t benefit from the medication. If anything, it could possibly place them in harm’s way,” Kumalo explains.

In addition, the drug must be administered within four hours after the stroke.

Younger stroke targets

You feel pretty invincible when you’re young and sometimes, having a bout of flu would stop few from going out partying. Given a choice between taking care of whatever’s bugging you health-wise and FOMO (fear of missing out)— most times the latter would win hands down.

“Most young people think that they’re perfectly fine after dodging healthy eating and exercising for many years. The reality is that we live under incredible pressure today, meaning we’re taking on more stress than our bodies can handle. Add to the facts that juggling our lives and demanding careers robs us of time to eat healthily and to exercise, meaning we actually aren’t living our best health lives,” says Dr Kumalo.

READ MORE | Your ultimate wellness guide for the body, mind and beauty routine

Stroke rates among young adults appear to be on the rise. According to ScienceDaily.com, “Globally, one in four adults older than 25, is at risk for stroke during his or her lifetime”, according to a 25-year study published in December 2018 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers looked at a lifetime stroke risk starting at age 25 instead of 45. Stroke risks varied geographically and were lowest among adults in sub-Saharan Africa, but not because they have better heart health.

Researchers believe this population is at a higher risk of death from other causes. The researchers stressed the importance of following a heart-healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, not smoking and curbing alcohol, as ways to prevent succumbing to a stroke. Contraceptives have also been linked to an increased risk of blood clots — though slight!

Blood clots are said to account for 87 percent of all strokes.

Quick Stop

Taking care of a stroke survivor? Take note of the following tips from stroke.org:

  • Familiarise yourself with your loves one’s medications. Ask doctors about any symptoms that you should be on the lookout for. Check for changes that should be implemented around the home to ensure that the stroke survivor is comfortable.
  • Prevent another stroke at all costs. Encourage your loved one to eat healthily, take their prescribed treatment, exercise regularly and go for their medical check-ups.
  • Recovery has many sides to it. Find out which part of the brain was mostly affected by the stroke and how much damage was done as well as how much rehabilitation will be needed.
  • Recovery can happen quickly or over time. Be patient, and encourage your loved to have the same attitude. Not all stroke survivors heal at the same pace.
  • Never tire of seeking professional help. Especially if your loved one suffers from dizziness, imbalance that often results in falls, difficulty walking or moving around, or to complete daily activities.
  • Don’t ignore falls. Take your loved to the emergency unit if they happen to suffer a fall that results in severe pain, bruising or bleeding.
  • Stop depression in its tracks. This could hinder recovery. Consult a psychologist asap!
  • Take a break from caregiving. Ask another family member, friend or neighbour to step in while you get some much-needed timeout.

Prevention is better than cure

Stroke prevention is better than cure because the chances of it striking again are very high, Dr Kumalo warns. “While medical treatments have become advanced and could possibly reduce the dire effects of a stroke, prevention is key.”

Therefore, taking better care of ourselves and slowing down when our bodies give off signs of fatigue aren’t things to be taken lightly. Dr Kumalo advises less dependency on alcohol as a coping mechanism, avoiding smoking and illegal drug usage, decreasing high cholesterol and fat levels, managing diabetes and maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

She adds that the start of a headache that feels like your brain has been split into two can be a telltale sign of a hemorrhagic stroke for younger people. “Your quality of life afterwards will depend on how quickly you seek help from a physician.”

Sign up to TRUELOVE's Monday Mood Newsletter
Positive kickstart to the week, upbeat celebrity news, TV news, career and financial tips - Sign up here!

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R29 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to SNL24
Show Comments ()