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Scots unaware that stroke is fourth biggest killer in UK

By Chris Saunderson

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More than half of Scots are unaware that stroke is one of the biggest causes of death in the UK, according to a study by the Stroke Association.

The acronym FAST is used as mnemonic to help a person having a stroke. FAST stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties and time to call emergency services.
The acronym FAST is used as mnemonic to help a person having a stroke. FAST stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties and time to call emergency services.

It is the fourth biggest killer in the UK, according to new research.

The charity has released the survey findings as it calls for vital support to fund more research into the devastating condition.

A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, killing brain cells.

The charity’s latest study asked the general public to rank health conditions in order of the leading causes of death and 55 per cent of people in Scotland who ranked stroke placed it below its actual position as the UK’s fourth biggest killer.

The research also revealed that over one in ten people (14 per cent) in Scotland underestimate the impact of stroke, believing that stroke ranks lower than its actual position as the fifth leading cause of disability (and death combined) in the UK. In fact, two thirds of people who survive a stroke find themselves living with a disability.

There are1.3 million stroke survivors living in the UK, with over 50 per cent of all stroke survivors dependent on others for everyday activities. However, the Stroke Association’s survey also found that people don’t understand the true long term damage a stroke can cause.

In Scotland:

Around two-thirds (62 per cent) of people are unaware that fatigue is a common hidden effect of stroke.

More than half (57 per cent) don’t realise that stroke can cause depression and anxiety.

Over a quarter of people (29 per cent) don’t know that communication difficulties are common after stroke.

More than two thirds of people (67 per cent) don’t know that stroke can affect hearing.

Almost two thirds (61 per cent) are unaware that stroke survivors can experience vision problems.

Despite the devastating impact of stroke, stroke research is chronically underfunded and receives far less funding than other health conditions that have similar life-long effects. In the UK far less is spent per survivor on research into stroke than research into any other health condition.

Data shows that annually, only 1.2 per cent of research budgets (approx. £30m) are spent on stroke, compared with 14.8 per cent (approx. £400m) on cancer, while there are 1.3m people living with the effects of stroke in the UK and 2.5m living with cancer.

However, the survey reveals many Brits believe more research funding is spent on stroke than other conditions including prostate cancer, dementia and chronic lower respiratory diseases.

The study also found that more than half of people (53 per cent) think that the number of deaths from stroke has increased in the last 10 years. However, despite stroke being the UK’s fourth biggest killer, the rate of deaths has actually decreased by more than half in the last three decades thanks in part to life saving research, demonstrating the crucial need for continued investment in stroke research.

Professor Jesse Dawson, University of Glasgow said: “Strokes are caused when the blood supply to the brain is cut off, most commonly as a result of a blood clot (known as an ischaemic stroke). The longer the brain is starved of oxygen the more brain cells die and the bigger and more lasting the effects of stroke are. We are testing when it’s best to start blood thinning medications after an ischaemic stroke. This research has the potential to prevent death and disability from stroke and to minimise some of the life-long effects caused by stroke.

“Our research is only possible through funding by UK charities – like the Stroke Association, who have played a key role in the breakthroughs we have seen in stroke research over recent decades. Supporting stroke research is vital to prevent stroke and to help stroke survivors to live a fuller life after such a devastating event.”

Ruth Hector had two strokes at the age of 30. It was devastating and impacted her mobility, her speech and her mood.

Ruth Hector has had two strokes.
Ruth Hector has had two strokes.

Ruth went into deep depression ending up in a mental health unit. And then six weeks after her first stroke, Ruth had a second one. It’s taken a lot of hard work and determination, but thankfully Ruth is now back at work and is enjoying her hobbies.

Ruth said: “Not enough people know that strokes can be fatal and can leave people with devastating disabilities. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk, it was hell. But I’ve come a long way and couldn’t have done it without the without good treatment and care. If it weren’t for research then I may not be where I am today. Research saves lives and I am sure played a critical part in my recovery.”

"I can now walk everywhere and as well as being able to read, and my writing has taken leaps and bounds. I’ve got my confidence back and that is really important because I believe in myself again, and that anything is possible.

"The impact of a stroke can be a life sentence, but thanks to research into new treatments and forms of support, I have made a good recovery and so can others.”

John Watson, associate director of the Stroke Association in Scotland, said: “ There are about 10,000 strokes in Scotland every year. While it changes lives in an instant, the brain can adapt and rebuild after stroke.

"That’s why research means everything to Scotland’s 128,000 stroke survivors and their families, because of the life-changing impact it could have on their future.

"Our pioneering research has been at the centre of major breakthroughs that have saved lives and sparked innovation in stroke care and treatment. From laying the foundations for the Act FAST campaign, one of the most successful public health awareness campaigns, to funding early research into the emergency stroke treatment thrombectomy (the manual removal of stroke-causing blood clots), many patients have been spared the most devastating effects of stroke as a result of our research.

“Despite stroke still being the fourth biggest killer in the UK, research has helped to more than halve the rate of deaths from stroke over the last three decades.

"It’s absolutely crucial that we continue this progress, but we can’t do this without vital funding. Far less is spent ‘per survivor’ on research into stroke than on research into any other health condition. We would never want to take researchers or money away from other conditions such as cancer, but we do want to replicate the success that cancer research has had, so that we can continue to make breakthroughs in stroke treatment and care.

“Now our focus is on improving life, after stroke strikes. The Stroke Association is the only UK organisation dedicated to funding research into ongoing rehabilitation for stroke survivors.

"Our research means everything to stroke survivors and their families. It gives hope for a better recovery, living more independently, a future. We’re calling on people to donate where they can to support our research and help give stroke survivors and their families the progress they deserve.”

Donate to help fund the research that could mean everything to stroke survivors and their loved ones. Funds raised will go towards vital services for stroke survivors across the UK, including support and pioneering research. Visit www.stroke.org.uk/supportresearch

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