The number of people in Europe living with stroke will rise by a quarter in thirty years’ time, according to new research supported by the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre.

The study, published in the journal Stroke, predicted that the number of people living with stroke will increase by 27% in the European Union, from 9.53 million in 2017 to 12.11 million in 2047. This is due to an ageing population paired with fewer people dying from stroke.

Researchers project that while there were 0.46 million deaths from stroke in the EU in 2017, they would expect this to fall to 0.38 million deaths in 2047.

The figures were produced before the COVID-19 pandemic, and so the effects of this are not included in the projections. However, although the team expect the pandemic to affect the economy and potentially lead to more deaths than predicted in the next 2-5 years, they do not expect this to impact the overall 30-year trend.

A stroke is a serious life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. People who survive a stroke are often left with long-term problems caused by injury to their brain. These can include physical problems such as paralysis and changes to cognitive functions such as communication or memory.

The research could help with planning and building capacity within the health system to deal with increased numbers of stroke survivors, who are more likely to require long term care due to the after-effects of a stroke.

The analysis looked at current trends in stroke rates and took into account demographic changes and economic factors that act as a proxy for the complex changes in lifestyle, environment and behavioural risk factors for stroke. This is the first time such measures have been included in a model of stroke incidence. The team created projections for each country across the EU and validated their predictions using existing datasets from the UK and Sweden.

Dr Yanzhong Wang, Reader in Medical Statistics at King’s College London, said: “As demographics change over time, older people will constitute a larger proportion of the EU population. On the positive side, many of the strokes we see in future will be milder because of the ongoing advances and widespread implementation of primary prevention strategies. Also, patients in the future are more likely to receive better care and treatment both in the acute and long-term stages after stroke. Therefore, we would expect to see a shift towards more people living with the after-effects of stroke. This will increase the demand for rehabilitation and long-term care, leading to rising future costs of stroke care.”

Dr Ajay Bhalla, consultant in stroke at Guy’s and St Thomas’ said: “This data provides a clear reminder that burden of stroke in Europe is projected to increase, dominated by an ever increasing ageing population. This highlights the need for stroke to remain a national priority across Europe given that there is variation in predicted mortality and disability rates.

“The advancement of stroke care will hopefully lead to projected improvements in survival with delivery of hyper-acute care using clot busting therapies and clot retrieval devices as well as improved access to specialist stroke unit care. It remains important for us to prevent stroke. You can reduce your risk by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking and drinking too much alcohol.”