Strokes are becoming less deadly, at least in one part of the UK. Rates of death and disability caused by a stroke have dropped by nearly a quarter in the past sixteen years in south London.
The change is probably due to faster hospital treatment, such as patients getting clot-busting drugs in the first few hours after a stroke, and better, longer-term care and rehabilitation, says Yanzhong Wang at King’s College London.
Wang’s team looked at figures for people living in Lambeth and Southwark in south London who had had an ischaemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot blocking an artery to the brain. It is responsible for nine out of 10 cases of stroke.
In 2015, 20 per cent of people who had this kind stroke died within a year, and 27 per cent of people developed disabilities, such as becoming unable to talk or walk. This was an improvement on figures from 2000, when the rate of death was 33 per cent and rate of disability was 35 per cent.
In the past decade, the UK has run nationwide campaigns to make people aware of the signs of a stroke, such as sudden speech problems or the face drooping on one side. If people get to hospital within about four hours of these symptoms, they can be given a drug to break up the clot. A few are able to have surgery to physically destroy it.
Since 2010, more people in London have been treated in specialist stroke centres, where they are more likely to get these emergency treatments in time and to go on long-term blood-thinning medicines than they would be if taken to their nearest hospital. The National Health Service plans to roll out more specialist stroke centres across the country.
Another contributing factor to the decline could be that more minor strokes are being diagnosed, says Wang.
Journal reference: PLOS Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003048