New fast-response stroke units to be set up in Dubai and Abu Dhabi
Two will be in Abu Dhabi and the third in Dubai, where Rashid Hospital has the only dedicated all-hours stroke unit.
From its establishment in early 2012 until the end of 2013, more than 600 patients were admitted. Last year the figure exceeded 700.
"Stroke awareness in the UAE is particularly important," said Dr Suhail Al Rukn, head of the Rashid Hospital unit.
"Fifty per cent of the stroke patients in the UAE are below the age of 45 years, as compared to the global average where 80 per cent of stroke patients are above the age of 65 years.
"For the UAE, this is an alarming statistic and calls for urgent lifestyle changes and increase in awareness.
"Every hospital has an emergency department. Everything was already there, so it just needed re-organising."
Fast action after a stroke is crucial for recovery.
For every minute after a stroke, two million brain cells, or neurons, are lost. The effect is crippling brain damage.
But if the right drugs are administered within the first three hours, the chance of recovery is considerably greater.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted or reduced, depriving it of oxygen and nutrients and causing brain cells to die.
Risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity and heavy drinking.
Doctors want this pilot stroke unit project extended across the region, as the unit at Rashid Hospital has experienced lower mortality rates and improved recovery rates.
"There are double the number of people dying of strokes than breast cancer, yet it does not get the same publicity," Dr Al Rukn said.
"After road traffic accidents, strokes are the number one killer in our region. It is a huge burden."
The new units aim to reduce the burden of stroke disabilities in communities by improving the level and speed of care.
"Swift assistance is key to reducing disability of stroke patients," said Dr Nagi Moussa, head of neurology at Al Ain Hospital. "Stroke symptoms are not to be taken casually and people must seek instantaneous medical assistance.
"A quick assessment can be made when the warning signs are easily identified, then the right treatment can be given."
Indicators of a stroke include a facial drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulties, with time the crucial factor in treatment.
It is hoped that all hospitals in the region will soon be "stroke ready".
The Stroke Association says women who take even low-oestrogen birth control tablets may be twice as likely to have a stroke than those who are not on the pill, and the risk may increase if there are other risk factors.
And women on hormone replacement therapy may have a slightly increased stroke risk.
"It is recommended that women be screened for high blood pressure before starting on the pill," said Dr Zaibunnisa Khan, specialist registrar in the neurology department at Rashid Hospital.
"Users of oral contraceptives who have one or more additional risk factors for stroke, such as hypertension or obesity, should pursue treatment of those risk factors while on the pill.
"As long as other risk factors are under control or not present, women can continue taking oral contraceptive pills in consultation with their gynaecologist.
"Women on oral contraceptive pills should be well hydrated. They are also more prone to weight gain, therefore they should exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet to avoid the risk of stroke."
Updated: February 23, 2015 04:00 AM