Plea for action to halt stroke threat

Stroke costs Australia $6.2 billion per year, prompting the Stroke Foundation to call for a national plan to halt the threat.

Two reports released by the Stroke Foundation reveal that more people are experiencing strokes at younger ages. In 2012, 14 per cent of stroke victims were aged 18 to 54. In 2020, that figure was 24 per cent. And rural and regional Australians are 17 per cent more likely to experience a stroke than their metropolitan counterparts.

“Achieving the benchmarks referenced in the report could mean thousands of Australians avoiding stroke, surviving and living well after stroke, equating to savings of $179 million over five years in economic costs and $2.4 billion in reduced mortality and improved wellbeing annually,” said Professor Amanda Thrift, chair of the Stroke Foundation Research Advisory Committee.

In 2050, without action, 50,600 Australians will experience a stroke for the first time and there will be 819,900 survivors of stroke in the community.

The Stroke Foundation has joined with the National Heart Foundation and the federal government to devise a national plan to combat stroke.

“The National Strategic Action Plan for Heart Disease and Stroke provides a roadmap of evidence-based interventions to address stroke, many of which have been modelled in these reports,” said Stroke Foundation chief executive officer Sharon McGowan.

“We have an opportunity to act now to change the course of this disease for generations to come. I look forward to working with governments to implement the action plan. It is an investment we can, and must, make for the health and wellbeing of our community,” she said.

The economic impact of stroke in Australia, 2020 report and the No Postcode Untouched, Stroke in Australia 2020 report found a stroke occurs in Australia every 19 minutes and 8703 Australians will die due to stroke this year. One-third of stroke events resulted in a disability, which impeded the stroke survivor’s ability to carry out usual daily activities unassisted.

The reports modelled the potential savings from reducing uncontrolled high blood pressure in the community and providing greater access to emergency stroke treatments.

Prompt access to care is vital for stroke survival. It is crucial to recognise the key signs of stroke – facial drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulties – and act swiftly to get medical help. The acronym FAST (face, arms, speech, time) is an easy action plan.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) says: “Stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain either suddenly becomes blocked (ischaemic stroke) or ruptures and begins to bleed (haemorrhagic stroke). Either may result in part of the brain dying, leading to sudden impairment that can affect a number of functions. Stroke often causes paralysis of parts of the body normally controlled by the area of the brain affected by the stroke, or speech problems and other symptoms, such as difficulties with swallowing, vision and thinking.”

The AIHW says stroke is often preventable because individuals can modify risk factors such as high blood pressure, inactivity, obesity and smoking can be modified.

The economic impact report pointed out that advancements in emergency stroke treatments mean more Australians are surviving stroke. However, stroke remains a leading cause of disability in Australia and its effects are felt for decades.

“The impact of stroke on survivors and carers (most likely a family member) can be significant, ranging from profound limitations relating to self-care, movement and communication to difficulty with balance, ongoing fatigue and loss of concentration. Depression and anxiety are also common after stroke.”

The report underlines the value of investing in stroke prevention, treatment, and care; more than 80 per cent of strokes can be prevented.

“By reducing uncontrolled high blood pressure among Australians, developing stroke-equipped ambulances, ensuring equity of access to comprehensive stroke centres and increasing stroke unit care we can improve outcomes from stroke and reduce its burden. Finally, by reducing the risk of further stroke through improved secondary prevention we can help more Australians live well after stroke and avoid hospital readmissions.

“The challenge is to ensure all Australians can access life-changing treatment when they need it. At the moment they are not,” said Stroke Foundation Clinical Council chair Professor Bruce Campbell.

Do you know the signs of stroke? Do you think enough is being done to counter stroke in Australia?

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