A campaign led by four undergraduates found young adults in Singapore lack general stroke awareness and knowledge.
While stroke is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, many continue to associate the disease with old age.
And it comes as no surprise that there is a lack of stroke awareness, especially among young adults.
A recent survey conducted by a campaign group of undergraduates from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore found about two-thirds (66 per cent) of young adults in Singapore are unable to identify any common symptoms of stroke. The study surveyed over 400 working young adults aged 25 to 34.
Furthermore, the group - named Strike Before Stroke - found more than half, or 57 per cent of those surveyed believe they are unlikely to suffer from stroke because of their young age.
Yet, there is no such thing as being too young for stroke. More worryingly, the life-threatening disease is becoming increasingly common among the young.
In Singapore, the number of young stroke patients admitted to public hospitals, aged between 15 and 49, has climbed to 704 in 2016, around 22 per cent higher than a decade ago.
While older age is still a significant risk factor for stroke, younger people can get stroke too, with 1 in 10 stroke patients in Singapore under the age of 50.
Teo Rui Ling, one of the Strike Before Stroke undergraduates in charge of the survey said, “Even though stroke can happen to anyone at any age, some young adults have the misconception that stroke is just an ‘old people’ disease.”
“As a result, they might not be aware that they are engaging in behaviors that can increase their stroke risk.”
The awareness gap can be more dangerous than one would think.
Dr Chang Hui Meng, a senior consultant from the Department of Neurology at the National Neuroscience Institute (SGH Campus) highlights the importance of closing this awareness gap. “The lack of awareness of stroke symptoms among young adults can lead to delayed medical treatment in hospitals. This could undermine the effectiveness of therapies which are time sensitive.”
She explained that the knowledge of stroke and its associated risk factors is crucial for effective treatment.
The brain, like many other organs in the body, receives oxygen and nutrients from the bloodstream.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, depriving brain cells the oxygen and nutrients they need. These brain cells start to die, causing memory loss, disability, vision or speech problems. In more severe cases, stroke can lead to lasting brain damage and even death.
There are two types of stroke: ischemic and haemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes account for 80 to 85 per cent of all stroke cases, and is caused when a blood clot forms in the brain artery, preventing blood from reaching the brain. Common symptoms of ischemic stroke include facial numbness - especially when one side of the face starts to droop - weakness in one arm and speech difficulties.
Less prevalent but often deadlier is the haemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when there is a rupturing of an artery in the brain. In contrast, symptoms of haemorrhagic stroke consist of a partial or total loss of consciousness, sudden severe headaches and vomiting.
Both types of strokes are dangerous and potentially fatal without quick treatment. If any of the abovementioned symptoms is observed, it is advised to call the ambulance immediately and head to the hospital.
Mitigating stroke risks
Learning and managing one’s own stroke risks is key to stroke prevention.
To aid in early stroke prevention, the Strike Before Stroke group has created a free risk screener tool as part of their campaign to help young adults in Singapore understand their own stroke risk better.
It is Singapore’s first young stroke awareness campaign tackling poor stroke literacy among young adults in Singapore and aims to encourage them to understand their stroke risks early through medical checkups or stroke risk screeners.
The tool, which is adapted from the US National Stroke Risk Association’s stroke risk scorecard, provides young adults with a gauge of their individual stroke risk so that they can be more equipped to embark on early stroke prevention. The tool can be completed in three minutes and accessed at www.strikebeforestroke.com/stroke-risk-assessment. It only serves to provide a gauge of the individual’s stroke risk, and should not be used to replace a doctor’s diagnosis.
Current research shows that smoking, physical inactivity, high stress levels and a diet high in cholesterol, saturated and trans fat can all increase the risk of getting stroke.
Dr Chang added, “Early understanding of stroke risk factors can help young adults to identify the correct lifestyles they should adopt.”
Lifestyle adjustments experts suggest exercising more regularly, cutting down on oily food, avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
About the campaign
In collaboration with Stroke Support Station (S3), Strike Before Stroke is a health communication campaign that aims to promote greater stroke awareness among working young adults in Singapore. Led by four final-year undergraduates from the Nanyang Technological University Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, the campaign seeks to educate and empower young adults to become more informed about stroke and take early preventive measures against stroke.
This campaign is funded by the National Youth Council’s Young ChangeMakers (YCM) Grant for youth projects benefitting society, the Central Singapore CDC Do-Good Grant for ground-up community projects addressing a social cause, and Moleac, a biopharmaceutical company focusing on Brain Injury (Stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury) treatment products.