Knowing the signs of a stroke and seeking urgent care can mean the difference between life and death.
In addition to being one of the world’s biggest killers, stroke is also the leading cause of disability worldwide, and the recovery process can be lengthy.
Equipping local health care professionals with the tools to better assist patients in Antigua and Barbuda is the focus of an online symposium taking place on February 27.
The event, being held by Zoom, is the second of its kind organised by the country’s Heart & Stroke Foundation (HSF).
The charity’s president Dr Georgette Meade – and one of the symposium’s four expert speakers – says it is geared at everyone from physicians to nurses and pharmacists. Members of the general public with an interest in improving their cardiac health are also welcome to join.
“We had very good feedback from our symposium last year and the plan is to host it as an annual event,” she explained. “Attendees will have the chance to ask questions after each presentation.”
Antiguan neurologist Dr Gaden Osborne, based at Mount St John’s Medical Centre, says the hospital is seeing more young people suffering from strokes than ever before.
Some are as young as 17 years old. Poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and smoking are among the biggest risk factors, along with hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.
“Better education about strokes could be one of the reasons we are seeing more young patients; people are getting better at recognising the signs and symptoms,” Dr Osborne explains.
“It sounds like a joke but I have had patients tell me they woke up with weakness and thought it was just gas.”
Stroke symptoms include sudden weakness or numbness in the limbs, garbled or slurred speech, droopiness in the face, confusion, loss of balance and lack of coordination.
“The quicker the person gets to hospital, the better off they will be in the long run. Time is of the essence,” Dr Osborne warns.
His 30-45 minute presentation will focus on cardioembolic stroke which occurs when the heart pumps unwanted materials into the brain circulation, resulting in the blocking of a brain blood vessel and damage to the brain tissue.
Long-term disabilities stroke can cause range from an inability to walk, to difficulty speaking or swallowing, and visual disturbances.
Dr Osborne studied at the American University of Antigua (AUA), before doing an internship in New York and a fellowship in clinical neurophysiology at the University of Michigan. In addition to stroke, his patients also include those suffering from Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and movement disorders such as Parkinson’s.
“This symposium is very important because physicians who are non-cardiologists and non-neurologists need to be able to manage these patients, especially given the lack of human resources locally,” Dr Osborne continued.
“We only have one cardiologist to the best of my knowledge and I’m the only neurologist here, so physicians need to understand the mechanisms of stroke so we can better serve our patients.”
He added, “I would also welcome questions from members of the public on risk factors, how to prevent stroke and secondary prevention too.”
Around 87 percent of strokes are known as ischemic; caused by blockage of an artery. The remainder are hemorrhagic and can impair cognitive abilities including thinking, moving, feeling, talking, understanding, and writing. Black and Hispanic patients are at a greater risk of these than other population groups.
As the nation’s sole cardiologist, Dr Meade’s own presentation will focus on management of chronic angina – chest pain caused when the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood.
She will be discussing additional medical therapy for angina, and other ways to improve both heart function and patients’ quality of life.
Dr Meade will also give key information on new guidelines regarding the use of aspirin.
“We now know it is not wise to take an aspirin daily without a physician’s guidance as it can cause stomach ulcers; the benefit is not necessarily matching the risk you are putting yourself at,” she added.
The remaining guest speakers are Dr Viviana Navas, a heart failure specialist from the Cleveland Clinic in Florida, and Dr Victor Elliot, an interventional cardiologist from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, who will be discussing sudden cardiac death.
The cost of taking part in the symposium is EC$100 for physicians and EC$50 for allied health professionals. Tickets are available via the Ticketing app, or from the Hope & Grace Cardiac Centre at Woods Mall.
The event will run from 9am to 2.40pm on Saturday February 27. Call 462-4973 for more details.