Budding musicians learning to play wind instruments need to be careful, doctors have said, after a Greater Taichung man learning to play the saxophone suffered a stroke as a result of blowing too forcefully into the mouthpiece.
Lin Mao-yuan (林茂淵), 63, said he and a few friends had signed up for saxophone lessons.
“Our teacher told us that as beginners, we should take a break after 15 minutes of practice. I have always followed this rule,” Lin said, adding that he exercises regularly to alleviate his high blood pressure.
He was practicing at home in November last year and, as his practice session was going well, he continued playing for 20 minutes.
“Suddenly, I felt dizzy, and my was head spinning. My lips, left hand and left leg became numb. I stopped blowing, but the condition persisted. Then I realized I was suffering a stroke, so I yelled for my wife to call an ambulance, which took me to the hospital within 15 minutes,” he said.
At the hospital, his systolic blood pressure was measured at 210mmHg, and he had a blood clot measuring about 1cm in his brain stem.
“The brain stem is difficult to operate on without damaging the cerebral tissues. So it was better to use supportive therapy to treat this case, with medications to control blood pressure and brain hypertension,” China Medical University neurologist Chen Chun-chung (陳春忠) said.
“Lin was very lucky. Most people who suffer a stroke near the brain stem are unconscious or paralyzed when they arrive at the hospital. If he kept on playing the saxophone and hadn’t sought treatment right away, 5 milliliters more blood could have left him partially paralyzed,” Chen said.
“Bleeding in the brain stem commonly occurs during brain strokes. In about 90 percent of these cases, the patient dies or lapses into a coma,” he added. “When people exert themselves to blow on a musical instrument, their blood pressure is heightened, and this can cause blood vessels in the brain to burst.”
Lin was discharged from hospital the following day, after tests indicated he did not have further internal bleeding.
He was back to work within one month.
However, Lin said that the experience had killed his desire to learn to play the saxophone and that he had since sold the instrument.
“In the past, I measured my blood pressure when I felt some discomfort. Now I measure it every day,” he said. “I used to hold my alcohol quite well, and could drink up to 700ml of whiskey at one sitting. Now I am trying to give up both alcohol and smoking.”
Chen said that 20 percent of strokes are caused by hypertension, of which 85 percent of cases are due to not keeping blood pressure under control.
“We recommend that people with high blood pressure not take up wind instruments, such as the saxophone or trumpet, which require strong lung capacity. They should take medication to control blood pressure. Going on and off medication, which causes blood pressure to go up or down, is also dangerous,” Chen said.
He added that people with high blood pressure should not attempt strenuous exercise.
“Fast walking is a good activity. It can improve blood vessel elasticity. With regular exercise, 20 percent of the patients are able to keep their condition under control without medication,” he said.