Stroke incidence and death from strokes declines in Australia

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More Australians are surviving stroke.

Figures released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) show the number and rate of cardiovascular disease (CVD) deaths have declined by 25 per cent – from around 56,000 to 41,800 – between 1981 and 2018.

Age standardised CVD death rates declined by around 75 per cent – falling from 689 to 152 per 100,000 population for males and 440 to 109 per 100,000 for females.

Stroke Foundation Clinical Council chair Professor Bruce Campbell said the encouraging data reflected advances in stroke diagnosis, treatment and care.

“Australia has led the way in some of the most recent advancements, particularly improvements to emergency stroke treatments,” Prof. Campbell said.

“The introduction of dedicated stroke units, increased availability of clot dissolving drugs and implementation of endovascular thrombectomy, where a clot is removed from the brain, all reduce disability after stroke. With the advent of telemedicine for stroke, more Australians, including those in regional and rural areas, are accessing stroke treatment quickly leading to improved outcomes.”

The AIHW report revealed the rate of stroke events fell by 24 per cent between 2001 and 2017, from 169 to 129 events per 100,000.

Stroke Foundation chief executive officer Sharon McGowan, while encouraged by the downward trend, said she was still concerned by how many Australians suffer strokes.

“In 2018, almost 387,000 Australians had experienced a stroke at some time in their lives – 25 per cent of those were under the age of 65,” Ms McGowan said.

“The remarkable advances we have made in emergency treatment mean that more people are surviving stroke. We now need to put the same effort into recovery. We must enable people to live well with stroke and prevent reoccurrence.

“There is also much work to be done to prevent stroke and reduce its burden on our community, particularly as our population grows and ages.

“Too many Australian lives are being impacted by this insidious disease. We know we can get these numbers even lower. Educating the community is paramount.”

Ms McGowan said the coronavirus pandemic had shown the importance of prevention in tackling disease and that approach could now be expanded to broader chronic diseases such as CVD.

Stroke: The facts
A stroke happens when an artery in the brain is blocked by a blood clot, or a blood vessel in the brain breaks, causing bleeding. The impact of the stroke depends on the area of the brain it damages. Damage to an area of your brain can affect how you think, behave, use words, swallow, see, feel, touch and move your body. Stroke affects everyone differently.

  • In 2018, stroke was the underlying cause in more than 8400 deaths (5 per cent of all deaths and 20 per cent of CVD deaths).
  • Stroke kills more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer.
  • More than 475,000 Australians are living with the effects of stroke. This is predicted to increase to one million by 2050.

The Stroke Foundation recommends the F.A.S.T. test as an easy way to remember the most common signs of stroke. Using the F.A.S.T. test involves asking these simple questions:

  • Face. Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
  • Arms. Can they lift both arms?
  • Speech. Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
  • Time is critical. If you see any of these signs call 000 straight away.

More than 80 per cent of strokes can be prevented. Research has shown that eliminating high blood pressure in patients could reduce stroke incidence by an estimated 48 per cent. Stroke is largely preventable by managing blood pressure and living a healthy, active lifestyle.

Things you can do to prevent stroke, according to heart.org:

  • Know your risk: If you’re between 40 and 75 years old and have never had a heart attack or stroke, use the Check. Change. Control. CalculatorTM  to estimate your risk of having a cardiovascular event in the next 10 years. Certain factors increase your risk, such as smoking, kidney disease or a family history of early heart disease. Many risk factors can be improved with lifestyle changes.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Centre your eating plan around vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins and fish. Make smart choices such as limiting refined carbohydrates, processed meats, and sweetened drinks. Use the nutrition facts label on packaged foods to cut back on sodium, added sugars and saturated fats, and avoid trans fat.
  • Be physically active: Move more – it’s one of the best ways to stay healthy, prevent disease and age well. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. If you’re already active, you can increase your intensity for even more benefits. If you’re not active now, get started by simply sitting less and moving more.
  • Watch your weight: Stay at a healthy weight for you. Lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. Start by eating fewer calories and moving more. You can check your body mass index (BMI). If you need help, talk to your healthcare team about a weight loss plan.
  • Live tobacco free: If you don’t smoke, vape, or use tobacco products, don’t start. There’s no such thing as a safe tobacco product. If quitting smoking or tobacco is a challenge for you, ask your team for help to kick the habit using proven methods. Don’t just swap one tobacco source for another. And try to avoid second-hand smoke, too!
  • Manage conditions: If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, high blood sugar, diabetes or other conditions that put you at greater risk, it’s very important to work with your healthcare team to make lifestyle changes. Many conditions can be prevented or managed by eating better, getting active, losing weight, and quitting tobacco.
  • Take your medicine: If you have a health condition, your doctor may prescribe statins or other medications to help control cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. Take all medications as directed. But don’t take aspirin as a preventive measure unless your doctor tells you to. If you’ve never had a heart attack or stroke, a daily aspirin may not help you at all and could cause problems including risk of bleeding.
  • Be a team player: Your healthcare team can help you reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke to live a longer, healthier life. Work together on your prevention plan. Ask questions, and be open about any challenges you may face in trying to make healthy changes. Stress, sleep, mental health, family situations, tobacco use, food access, social support and other issues can all affect your health and wellbeing.

Are you aware of your stroke risk factors? And of the signs someone may be experiencing a stroke?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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Written by Will Brodie

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