Strokes caused by Covid-19 under the spotlight in world’s largest research study

The Stroke Association is funding the world’s largest research study to investigate worrying reports that Covid-19 is causing life-threatening strokes [1-2]. As Covid-19 cases continue to rise across the globe, this critical research may help to prevent Covid-19-related death and disability. The study will build on the work of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Data Science Centre at Health Data Research UK (HDR UK). 

The latest data shows there are currently almost 70,000 stroke survivors living in Wales, according to their GP practice record and a rate of 2.12% stroke prevalence across the country [3]. Stroke is one of the leading causes of death across the UK.

Announced today, the study uses health data from nearly all UK adults. Having access to large amounts of data will allow the researchers to follow the health of Covid-19 patients. Data analysts will compare stroke in patients who have tested positive for Covid-19 with patients without the virus, to confirm if Covid-19 increases risk of stroke and by how much.

The researchers will also analyse stroke risk and characteristics including age, sex, ethnicity and geography to identify which Covid-19 patients may be most at risk of stroke. Stroke risk due to Covid-19 will be compared to increases in stroke risk due to other infections and cardiovascular conditions.

Dr Rubina Ahmed, Research Director, Stroke Association said: “Stroke already strikes every five minutes and we’re extremely concerned that Covid-19 may lead to more strokes, destroying more lives. Equally concerning are reports that stroke patients who have Covid-19 may be younger, and experience more severe effects of stroke, including death [4]. Severe illness due to Covid-19 is a challenge enough– but it’s worrying that a deadly stroke might also be on the way. This new research can help guide the development of new treatments that can prevent life-threatening strokes.”

This research forms part of the CVD-COVID-UK flagship project consortium, which is led by the BHF Data Science Centre at HDR UK. This project consortium aims to understand the relationship between Covid-19 and cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke in the UK population.

Dr William Whiteley, Reader in neurology at the University of Edinburgh and a lead on this research said: “Covid-19 may cause stroke in some patients.  So far studies of Covid and stroke have been small. More data will improve our understanding and give a better idea of the risks of stroke after Covid-19 infection. With the funding of the Stroke Association and access to the data and research community brought together by the BHF Data Science Centre, the team can use health information from nearly all adults in the UK. By working with information specialists, we’ll be able to accurately detect even the smallest increase in risk of stroke across different groups of people. We’re incredibly grateful to have the support of charities to help get this urgent research underway, so that we can better inform patients and health care professionals about Covid-19 and risk of stroke.” 

Dr Rubina Ahmed continues: “We will be living with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future and we don’t want to see the pandemic leave more deadly strokes in its wake. Stroke is a leading cause of adult disability in the UK and the second biggest killer in the world. This research is crucial to our understanding of Covid-19 and strokes, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our income and is threatening life-saving breakthroughs. Now more than ever, we need the public’s support. If you can, please help us find a way through the research funding crisis by donating today, so that we can fund more life-saving research.”

Katie Chappelle, Associate Director, Wales of the Stroke Association said: “We've been supporting stroke survivors throughout the pandemic through our Helpline, our online community My Stroke Guide and through our local face-to-face Life after Stroke services – most of which we’ve moved online to be able to continue safely supporting people who’ve had a stroke. We also launched our Here For You project, to make sure stroke survivors aren’t isolated during lockdown. Stroke changes lives in an instant and stroke survivors need support to recover, cope and adapt and those with Covid-19 may have additional needs. We need to be prepared with this new knowledge about links between Covid-19 and stroke to support people long into the future.”

Prof Cathie Sudlow, Director of the BHF Data Science Centre at Health Data Research UK said: “The BHF Data Science Centre is delighted to be providing the scientific and data access infrastructure to enable this important Stroke Association-funded research project. We look forward to working with and supporting Dr Whiteley and his research team as they generate insights to help people with stroke, their carers and health professionals understand the impact of Covid-19 on stroke risk, and make informed decisions about their treatment and care.”

Over the past 30 years the Stroke Association has played a crucial role in supporting stroke research in the UK. This year, as a result of the pandemic the charity has had to halve its budget for stroke research.

To find out more about research funded by the charity visit stroke.org.uk/research or to donate please go to: stroke.org.uk/donate-research 

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Team @ AberdareOnline

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