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Stroke deaths expected to rise to five million by 2030

A recent study led by Tongji University in China has found that the number of global deaths from ischemic stroke – the most common type of stroke, caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain – increased from two million in the 1990 to over three million in 2020, and is expected to spike to almost five million by the end of this decade.

By analyzing data from the Global Health Data Exchange from 1990 to 2019, the experts discovered that, as the world population grew, the number of ischemic stroke deaths worldwide increased from 2.04 million in 1990 to 3.29 million in 2019. Yet, the stroke rate decreased from 66 strokes per 100,000 people in 1990 to 44 strokes per 100,000 in 2019.

“This decrease in the stroke rate likely means that the overall increase in the number of strokes worldwide is mainly due to population growth and aging,” said senior author Lize Xiong, a professor of Medicine at the Shanghai Fourth People’s Hospital Affiliated to Tongji University School of Medicine.

The analysis revealed seven major risk factors contributing to the increase in the number of strokes: smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a sodium-rich diet, high blood sugar, kidney dysfunction, and high body mass index (BMI).

By using data collected for the period 1990-2019, the scientists predicted that the death toll for ischemic stroke will likely rise to 4.9 million in 2030 and, if the seven risk factors they identified are not prevented or controlled, it might even reach 6.4 million.

“This increase in the global death toll of ischemic stroke along with a predicted further increase in the future is concerning, but ischemic stroke is highly preventable. Our results suggest that a combination of lifestyle factors like smoking and a diet high in sodium along with other factors such as high blood pressure and high body mass index can lead to an increased risk of stroke,” Xiong explained.

“This study provides an insightful perspective on the global burden of ischemic stroke,” added editorial author Carlos Cantú-Brito, a neurologist at the Stroke Clinic of the Salvador Zubirán National Institute of Health Sciences and Nutrition in Mexico City. 

“It points out many vital factors that should be used for informed policymaking, emphasizing the need for policies and programs to promote healthy lifestyle choices, including regular physical activity, low-salt diets, and smoking cessation.”

The study is published in the journal Neurology®

More about ischemic stroke

An ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke and occurs when a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot. This can happen in two ways:

Cerebral thrombosis

This is the most common cause of an ischemic stroke, where a blood clot (thrombus) forms in an artery that supplies blood to the brain.

Cerebral embolism

In this case, a blood clot or other debris forms away from your brain – commonly in your heart – and is swept through your bloodstream to lodge in narrower brain arteries.

Ischemic strokes can be further divided into two types, depending on where the blockage is:

Cortical strokes: These happen when the blockage is in one of the brain’s larger blood vessels.

Lacunar strokes: These occur when there’s blockage in one of the smaller vessels deep in the brain.

Ischemic strokes often result from an underlying condition known as atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of fatty deposits on the inner lining of blood vessels. Other risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and heart diseases.

Symptoms of an ischemic stroke can be remembered with the acronym FAST:

Face: Is one side of the face drooping or numb?

Arms: Is one arm weak or numb? Can both arms be raised evenly?

Speech: Is speech slurred or difficult to understand?

Time: If any of these symptoms are present, it’s time to call emergency services right away. Quick treatment can minimize brain damage.

Treatment for an ischemic stroke focuses on restoring blood flow to the brain. This could involve taking blood clot-busting drugs, aspirin, or having a procedure to physically remove the clot (mechanical thrombectomy). After an ischemic stroke, a patient may also require rehabilitation to regain as much independence and quality of life as possible.

Time is crucial in the management of ischemic stroke as the sooner treatment is initiated, the more brain tissue can be saved. 

The outcomes and recovery after an ischemic stroke vary greatly and depend on the size and location of the stroke, how quickly treatment was initiated, the person’s overall health, and other factors. It can lead to temporary or permanent disabilities, and in some cases, it can be fatal.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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