Stroke

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. This starves the brain of oxygen, with devastating consequences. Stroke is the fourth biggest killer in the UK, and a leading cause of disability.

There are two types of stroke:

  • Ischaemic strokes are caused by a blockage (usually a blood clot) cutting off the blood supply to the brain. About 85% of strokes are ischaemic.
  • Haemorrhagic strokes are caused by a blood vessel bursting in the brain.


Who is affected?

Stroke occurs around 100,000 times per year in the UK. That’s once every five minutes.

Age is the most important risk factor for stroke: it is most likely to occur after the age of 55. But younger people are affected too, even children – there are around 400 childhood strokes every year in the UK.

Men are more likely than women to have a stroke, and at a younger age. But because women live longer than men, more women are affected.

The FAST test - act FAST

A stroke is a medical emergency. It is vital that everyone with a suspected stroke receives medical attention as quickly as possible.

Public awareness of the FAST test can help people to identify the signs of stroke and call 999 as quickly as possible.

Face: has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?
Arms: can they raise both arms and keep them there?
Speech: is their speech slurred?
Time to call 999 if you see any single one of these signs of stroke.

The impact of stroke

Stroke is the fourth single leading cause of death in the UK, responsible for 38,000 deaths annually. That’s a life lost every 13 minutes.

The number of deaths from stroke is going down. This is partly due to a reduction in the incidence of strokes, but also thanks to a greater awareness of symptoms - meaning that help is sought sooner - and the availability of better emergency treatments.

The lower mortality rates mean that more people are surviving stroke than ever before. There are an estimated 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK today. However stroke is also a leading cause of disability, with almost two thirds of survivors leaving hospital with a disability. The range of disabilities is greater than for any other condition and includes limb weakness, visual problems, and language and communication problems. Extreme fatigue is also a common side-effect, and depression and anxiety are common.

In addition to the huge personal impact on the lives of survivors, the impact of stroke on society is enormous. The economic burden of stroke in the UK is estimated at £9 billion a year – including health and social care costs, informal care, productivity losses and benefit payments. Two-thirds of working age survivors are unable to return to work. 

Our research in stroke

We have recently highlighted acquired brain injury – including stroke – as one of our three research priority areas. This recognises a high level of unmet need for research in this field and means that we are specifically calling for applications in acquired brain injury under our PhD studentship and project grant schemes.

In 2017 we awarded two project grants for research in stroke:

Professor Sven Bestmann, UCL Institute of Neurology, is using new techniques to determine when and how best to use electrical brain stimulation to enhance recovery after stroke. Read about Professor Bestmann's research.  

Dr Lawrence Moon, King’s College London, is developing and testing a new therapy to enhance spinal neuroplasticity after stroke. Read about Dr Moon's research.