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Warnings on TIA, strokes and Cuba

Published:Sunday | July 18, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Egerton Chang, Contributor

One night last week, I felt a little 'laziness' in my left leg which, initially, I thought was due to my sitting down for too long in a 'bad' position. I also felt a little light-headed. I immediately informed my daughters who looked up the symptoms of a stroke on the Internet. Of the five to six symptoms, I only had one and the 'laziness' only extended to my left leg.

We continued to monitor the situation for another 30-35 minutes. When I detected that the laziness started to extend to my left hand, I took the decision to check it out at Andrew's Memorial Hospital.

The staff there was quite attentive and I was seen by a nurse and doctor within 10 minutes. They took my blood pressure (high normal), took blood for testing and did an ECG. They also put me on a saline drip.

The blood test proved OK, as did the ECG. After further observations and being satisfied that my symptoms were indeed transient and not progressive, I was released.

The diagnosis was possible transient ischemic attack (TIA). Now, TIA is like a stroke, producing similar symptoms, but usually lasting only a few minutes and causing no permanent damage. Often called a mini-stroke, about one in three people who have a TIA eventually has a stroke, with about half occurring within a year.

A TIA can serve as both a warning and an opportunity - a warning of an impending stroke, and an opportunity to take steps to prevent it.

The signs and symptoms of TIA resemble those found early in a stroke and may include:

  • Sudden weakness, numbness or paralysis in your face, arm or leg, typically on one side of your body;
  • Slurred or garbled speech or difficulty understanding others;
  • Sudden blindness in one or both eyes or double vision;
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

You may have more than one TIA, and the signs and symptoms may be similar or different, depending on which area of the brain is involved.

Prompt evaluation

Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you have had a TIA. Prompt evaluation and identification of potentially treatable conditions may help you prevent a stroke.

The above information is provided mostly by mayoclinic.com.

I never had slurred speech, loss of co-ordination, difficulty understanding others or increased problems with my vision. Nevertheless, I treated it the way it should. Early the next morning, I had a CAT scan. Fortunately, it showed no new infarction. (Wikipedia defines an infarction as the formation of an infarct, that is, an area of tissue death due to a local lack of oxygen caused by obstruction of the tissue's blood supply.)

After heart disease and cancer, stroke is the leading cause of death in the United States. Strokes kill 163,000 people a year and account for one out of every 15 deaths.

Strokes are also the leading cause of serious long-term disability in America, costing US$51 billion a year. Though more common in men than in women, more women than men actually die from it. Black men and women have the highest death rates from strokes. The incidence of strokes increases with age, and it doubles every 10 years after age 55. One in four stroke victims is less than 65 years old.

Thanks to Nurse Davidson and Drs Espinosa and Young, I can write this column as a warning. Look out for these symptoms and take such signs seriously.

And then there is another type of warning.

'Cuba to open to US tourists soon.' American vacationers interested in legally visiting Cuba have been encouraged by a Congressional committee's recent decision to send anti-embargo legislation forward. If approved by both House and Senate and signed by President Obama, the ban on American tourists visiting Cuba would end.

The announcement (July 7) by Cuba that it would release some political prisoners can be seen as a further impetus to end this four-decades-long embargo. Supporters of the controversial legislation include the influential United States Tour Operators' Association.

Unique Flavour

To quote from Kitty Yancey of USA Today:

"Travellers who recall Cuba's musty hotels and often unpalatable fare are surprised by the upgrades. The country famed for vintage architecture, rum, cigars and '50s cars has a new spin.

"Cuba and its tourism industry are ramping up with hip hotels, Chinese-made tour buses and restaurants serving trendy international dishes, partly in anticipation of an influx of Americans and their greenbacks ... . Visitors are drawn by Cuba's 'unique flavour, sensualism and beautiful people'.

"About 41,000 of last year's 2.3 million visitors were from the USA, including legal Cuban Americans, Cuban officials say. Cuba welcomes US tourists, attracted despite the chance of fines or surrender of passports if caught when re-entering the USA."

Recently, my wife and daughter visited Cuba, where my daughter participated in the Caribbean Island Swimming Champion-ships, which was held in Havana June 29-July 2. My wife reports that her stay there was, for the most part, very pleasant. The budget hotel they stayed at was kept very clean and was well maintained and the nightly rate represented good value for money. The rooms were air-conditioned and each had a TV, complete with cable. The World Cup was shown on three dedicated channels, plus CNN et al. The water was drinkable, electricity available 24/7, and the infrastructure good.

There was no fear of robbery or other forms of violence. Further, she reports the sports facility where the swimming events were staged was the most modern (yet unpainted and quite aged, with the bathrooms a bit dirty) of all the facilities she had visited for similar games in the Caribbean. They had the very latest in timing equipment - Omega no less - and the lane dividers were the ones prescribed by FINA only this year.

Apart from the food, which required some getting used to, and the dearth of bilingual hotel staff, it was obvious that the embargo has had a cumulative effect on services generally. The trip, however, proved an eye-opener vis-à-vis the negative propaganda disseminated on Cuba. While Jamaica has a little time to get its tourism house in order, this time cannot be much more than three years.

Jamaica, be warned! Cuba will once again become the playground of America's elite.

Egerton Chang may be contacted at e_rider69@hotmail.com or columns@gleanerjm.com.