Deaths due to stroke are on the decline in south London

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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 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 south London who had an ischaemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot blocking an artery to the brain; it is responsible for nine out of ten cases of stroke.

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In 2015, 20 per cent of people who had this kind stroke died within a year, and 27 per cent of the total ended up classed as disabled in some way, such as being left unable to talk or walk. But 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 may have surgery to physically destroy it.

And since 2010 London has started treating more people in specialist stroke centres, where people are more likely to get these emergency treatments in time, and to go on long-term blood-thinning medicines, than if they are taken to their nearest hospital. The National Health Service plans to roll out more specialist stroke centres across the country.

But another contributing factor could be that more minor strokes are being diagnosed, says Wang.

Journal reference: PLOS Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003048

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