DESPITE the numerous information dissemination and awareness campaigns at the barangay, regional and national levels, stroke continues to be a top killer disease in the country.
Based on data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority in September 2023, the top three causes of death for 2022 were ischemic heart diseases, neoplasms, and cerebrovascular diseases.
Ischemic heart disease was the top killer in 2022 with 114,557 cases or 18.4 percent of the total deaths in the country, followed by neoplasms with 63,377 fatalities for a 10.2 percent share, and then cerebrovascular ailments round up the top three with 63,281 cases and likewise 10.2 percent of the total death toll.
What makes stroke dangerous?
ACCORDING to Dr. Alejandro Diaz, a neurologist and currently the Vice President of the Philippine Society of Hypertension (PSH), hypertension, or what most people know as “high blood pressure,” is a common condition that can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. Hypertension occurs when the force of blood against the walls of the arteries is too high and this causes damage to the blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Stroke, on the other hand, happens when a part of the brain is no longer getting the blood and oxygen it needs due to narrowed or blocked blood vessels. This blockage is often caused by high blood pressure, which damages the arteries throughout the body.
“If left undetected and untreated, high blood pressure is one of the primary causes of stroke and other serious health problems,” Dr. Diaz warned.
Changing the mindset of Filipinos
FOR the past several years, Dr. Diaz said the PSH regularly conducts what it calls the opportunistic blood pressure checks. It is a different kind of blood pressure screening campaign, where the PSH goes to markets, malls, hospitals or directly to the patients. In these campaigns, digital blood pressure monitors are used. However, most people are afraid to use this instrument because of several concerns, particularly in the area of accuracy.
However, Dr. Diaz said that what they envision is that more Filipinos become empowered to have their blood pressure monitored regularly so that they will be able to know and check their blood pressure status on their own, even in the comforts of their own home.
He, however, emphasized that people should follow necessary steps in order to get a proper and correct blood pressure measurement with their digital blood pressure monitor. This includes relaxing first, sitting with with back support, avoid crossing the legs, no coughing, and placing the blood pressure cuff properly.
He said Filipinos are no strangers to stroke, and yet awareness about hypertension is relatively low at only 52 percent and that stroke is generally asymptomatic. “Hypertension is a long, gradual elevation of blood pressure. It doesn’t go up right away, and usually starts at age 20. Our desire now is to further increase that level of awareness,” Dr. Diaz said.
Stroke risk calculation done in three minutes
YUSUKE Kato, General Manager of OMRON Asia Pacific Pte. Ltd. Philippine Branch (Healthcare Division) and OMRON Healthcare (Thailand) Co., Ltd., echoed the sentiments of Dr. Diaz. “Enhancing awareness about hypertension is extremely important, and the Stroke Risk Calculator is one that the public can use so they may have the opportunity to assess if they are at risk to stroke.”
Aside from that, he said that OMRON is also conducting other activities to increase awareness. However, a lot of information available nowadays is not exactly correct so OMRON has to deliver trusted, reliable information. “That is why it is important for us to work closely with key opinion leaders like the PSH so that we can give valuable and accurate information to the public, and we would like to deliver this information to as many people in the Philippines as possible, particularly in the provinces,” Kato added.
Eunice Teo, Product Manager, Cardiovascular and Respiratory of OMRON Healthcare Singapore Pte. Ltd., said the Stroke Risk Calculator originated from an app called “Stroke Riskometer” and developed back in 2014.
The Stroke Risk Calculator mainly involves a set of around 20 questions for the person to answer to help assess his stroke risks. “By answering the questions, which generally revolves around lifestyle habits, diet, and medical history, it will provide the individual an indication of stroke risks in the next five years or even the next 10 years or a medium- to long-term calculation.”
She said the questions and the algorithm used were developed by the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in Auckland, New Zealand, with the help of over 300 prominent stroke experts from 102 countries, making it the project world’s largest international collaborative mobile health initiative of its kind. The questions were clinically and scientifically validated by many global organizations such as the World Stroke Organization and the World Heart Federation, among others, to ensure their validity and accuracy.
This year, she said OMRON decided to work with AUT to help increase stroke awareness in many countries, including the Philippines. The Stroke Risk Calculator will be available through the OMRON website and is offered absolutely free.
Monitor hypertension, mitigate stroke risks
DR. Diaz said living a healthier and longer life starts with understanding the body, listening to what it needs and making choices to change for the better. As stroke remains to be one of the top enemies of Filipinos, he pointed out that people of all ages should assess their level of risk and start taking action to reduce their stroke risks.
“One of the most effective and simplest things to do now is to constantly measure and monitor one’s blood pressure, keep a record of their readings, and assess all factors that contribute to their readings. But don’t stop at that, change your lifestyle if you must and commit to healthy habits,” he concluded.