Stroke making early strikes

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A stroke patient is treated at Nguyen Trai Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Nguoi Lao Dong

Stroke is associated with older people, but doctors say it is no longer rare to see stroke patients in their 20s.

Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City recently received a 20-year-old man who fell into a coma after having a headache and vomiting shortly after he woke up one morning. 

Doctors said the man, only identified by his initials N. H. C., had suffered from a stroke caused by cerebral infarction.

C. was healthy and did not have a history of cardiological problems.

A recent Nguoi Lao Dong report, citing the Vietnam Stroke Association, said a sedentary lifestyle with little exercise and a lot of drinking and smoking was a major reason behind young people suffering stroke.

It said young people, those below 40, used to account for 1.7 percent of stroke patients ten years ago, but the ratio has gone up to 3 percent, with male patients outnumbering females four-fold. 

Nguyen Trai Hospital said the young stroke patients it admits have increased by 20-30 percent compared to several years ago.

Vietnam records around 200,000 stroke patients every year and nearly half of them died, according to the association. About 80 percent of the cases, compared to the global average of 87 percent, are caused by ischemia, which is inadequate blood supply due to artery blockage, and the rest are caused by hemorrhage.

The association said stroke has become the most widespread cerebral problem in the country.

Doctors say stroke patients need to be hospitalized within the "golden timeframe" of three hours, that the intervention only needs to happen 10 to 15 minutes earlier to increase the patient's survival chance by 30 percent.

But not all hospitals in Vietnam have a stroke department that people can be rushed to, thus limiting the chance that they are saved or protected from serious, lasting physical damage.

Recently L. V. B., a 45-year-old man from HCMC, arrived at a stroke center when doctors said he only had one to two percent chance of survival, as his family had been taking him to places that do not deal with stroke patients.

B. suffers from high blood pressure and has been doing regular exercises, but the pressure increased one time while he was playing tennis and he collapsed on the court.

Doctors managed to save him by clearing a blood clot in the brain but he is still suffering muscle paralysis that distorts the shape of his mouth, and is receiving physical therapy.

Dr. Tran Chi Cuong of the Ho Chi Minh City Medical University Hospital said a stroke can happen to anyone at anytime and therefore, the country needs a well-equipped stroke center at a convenient location, including even a helicopter to transport patients in emergencies.

"This hospital alone has to treat eight to ten stroke cases every day, so we can see how much a specialized center is needed," Cuong said.

The main hospitals dealing with stroke in HCMC, including Cho Ray, Nguyen Tri Phuong, Nguyen Trai, Gia Dinh and 115 Emergency Hospital, all report increases in the number of stroke cases they have to treat.

Dr. Nguyen Huy Thang of the 115 Hospital said their stroke department has between 130 and 160 inpatients every day, not including those coming in for examinations for various related problems.

There is no standard treatment procedure for stroke patients, and scientists around the world have been working for years on a medicine that has proved effective on a number of patients, according to a conference held last week at Bach Mai, a leading public hospital in Hanoi.

Doctors said the disease is highly deadly and the chances of recurrence are high. Around one-third of the patients are likely to suffer another stroke in five years, while around 30 percent will need others' care and 50 percent cannot do anything by themselves.

They said smokers, drinkers, those with cardiological conditions, diabetes or obesity, and those using contraception pills carry a higher risk of suffering a stroke.

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