Haj: A unique opportunity to evaluate risk factors

Around one stroke case every 15 minutes in Kingdom


Saudi Gazette

AROUND one stroke case takes place every 15 minutes in the Kingdom, and approximately between 50 to 100 cases per day, according to Mohammed Almekhlafi, interventional stroke neurologist and president of the Saudi Stroke Association (SSA).

Almekhlafi stated that across the country, about 20,000 new strokes occur each year, resulting in 4,000 deaths and 8,000 disabilities. Every year, 15 million people worldwide suffer a stroke. Nearly six million die and another five million are left permanently disabled. Stroke is the second leading cause of disability.

Due to the high rate of the disease cases, he stressed on the importance of enhancing the awareness about stroke disease and how to implement immediate stroke treatment during the Haj season.

Almekhlafi, mentioned that individuals could help in preventing stroke by making healthy lifestyle choices. This includes choosing healthy meals and snack options with good hydration, managing a well-balanced physical activity as well as quitting smoking.

He said, “Currently in Makkah during Haj, there are five dedicated centers that are linked during the Haj season to ensure timely triage and access to treatment; centered in King Abdullah Medical City, and linked to Al-Noor Hospital, King Faisal Hospital in Makkah, King Abdulaziz Hospital and Her’aa Hospital.”

Almekhlafi added that there is currently a need for more research on stroke incidence during Haj. There is an opportunity to develop vascular preventative and screening programs to evaluate risk factors that may increase the occurrence of stroke during Haj.

“In addition, because of the expected rates of infection such as upper respiratory infections, and psychological stress, the Haj pilgrimage brings a unique opportunity to evaluate any impact of such factors on the occurrence of stroke,” he said.

According to Almekhlafi, since 2016, 45 stroke centers are working to establish stroke units with experts from the Saudi Stroke Association, with training and educational support from leading programs as the Angeles initiative of The European Stroke Organization and Boehringer Ingelheim.

He added, “Stroke units will directly lead to faster and better patient outcomes and aim to provide superior technology with multidisciplinary teams that exclusively manage stroke patients in a ward. Having such centers will decrease the mortality rates, the complications and will improve the outcomes of stroke.”

He mentioned that symptoms of a stroke occur very quickly and can include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs on one side of the body, and speech impairment. The person could suffer from trouble with eyesight, loss of balance, and sudden severe headache.

Acting fast toward the sudden signs of stroke, which reflects face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, is vital to save a life or prevent life threatening disability.

When asked if the person has a stroke during Haj rituals how should the family members deal with the situation, he answered that immediate and appropriate action is required when a stroke is suspected.

“There is no substitute for visiting a hospital if a suspected stroke has occurred, neither will taking painkillers, sleeping nor resting would help. The longer a stroke remains untreated, the greater is the chance of stroke-related brain damage and so emergency medical treatment needs to be sought immediately after symptoms begin in order to improve the chances of survival and recovery.”