Dr. Kerissa Naidoo, Chief Medical Officer at Old Mutual
Every hour in South Africa, 10 people are likely to suffer from a stroke. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, this leads to nearly 70 deaths a day nationally.
Strokes are also one of the leading causes of illness claims and show up as one of Old Mutual’s ‘Big 4 Illnesses’ alongside cancer, heart attacks and coronary artery bypass grafts. As a group, the Big 4 made up 70% of all Illness insurance claims in 2020.
Typically labeled an elderly disease, in reality, anyone is at risk of having a stroke, says Dr. Kerissa Naidoo, Chief Medical Officer at Old Mutual.
“A stroke is a cardiovascular disorder that occurs when the blood supply to the brain from the carotid arteries is interrupted,” says Naidoo.
“People with comorbidities, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are at higher risk of developing severe Covid-19 infection,” she adds. “This is why it is crucial for South Africans to recognise the impact of heart disease at any life stage and take the necessary precautionary steps early on, to ensure they are financially protected.”
Old Mutual’s 2020 Claim Statistics show that cardiovascular disorders – which include heart attacks and strokes – remain the second-most claimed for illness for the second year in a row, accounting for 27% of all illness insurance claims and last year the youngest claimant in this illness category was just 25.
“The main causes of a stroke are uncontrolled blood pressure and an abnormal heart rhythm,” says Naidoo. “That said, most strokes do not have a single cause, but rather many factors that together increase the chance of cardiovascular disease, which eventually may result in a stroke.”
While these factors may not directly cause the stroke to occur, they contribute to its development and are therefore called risk factors.
Naidoo admits that some risk factors are uncontrollable, such as increasing age, genetics or family history. “The good news is that certain risk factors are controllable,” she adds, including body weight, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption.
“These lifestyle factors are the most likely reasons why younger people are increasingly affected by cardiovascular diseases.”
Thankfully, 80% of deaths from strokes before the age of 65 can be prevented simply by making healthy lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and improved diet, and by proactively screening for and controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
While leading a healthy lifestyle may be the best preventative measure, it does not provide any guarantees, says Naidoo. “This is why illness insurance should play an important role in protecting you from the unpredictability of life, in helping to secure the best possible care should you develop a condition such as a stroke.”
“While younger South Africans may feel far removed from the risks of suffering a stroke, it is becoming increasingly clear that strokes should not be a concern reserved only for the over the sixties. World Stroke Day on 29 October 2021 affords us the opportunity to recognise the role of comprehensive illness insurance in providing the best possible physical and financial protection in the event of severe illness, regardless of your age,” says Naidoo.
Visit oldmutual.co.za/illness for Ts&Cs and more information