Mini strokes also shave quality years off life, study says

Researchers are calling for better stroke prevention and treatment methods after a new study found having a stroke could cause people to lose five quality years of life, even minor strokes like transient ischemic attacks (TIAs).

"These results highlight the severe toll that stroke takes on millions of people every year," lead study author Peter M. Rothwell, a professor of neurology at the University of Oxford in the U.K., said in a written statement. "Our study should serve as a wake-up call that we need more funding and research for stroke treatments and secondary stroke prevention measures to improve quality of life in stroke survivors."

Rothwell says his study is the first in more than two decades to track long-term quality of life following a stroke.

A stroke is a major cause of disability in the United States: On average a stroke occurs every 40 seconds, affecting about 795,000 people each year, says the American Stroke Association.

Strokes can be caused by a clot blocking blood flow in arteries that lead to or are found in the brain, called an "ischemic stroke" or by a blood vessel in the brain rupturing, what's known as a "hemorrhagic stroke". Effects of a stroke may include paralysis, problems with thinking, problems with speaking and emotional problems. A TIA, or "mini stroke" is caused by a temporary blockage, with symptoms lasting a shorter amount of time.

But, the new research suggests effects can be longer-lasting for these milder strokes.

Rothwell's team looked at nearly 750 people who suffered a stroke and 440 who had a TIA. They were tracked for five years and given questionnaires that measured their quality of life, which were then scored by researchers. Responses ranged from "perfect health" to "worse than death," and the quality of life (QOL) scores researchers came up with were then compared to scores calculated from healthy people of the same ages.

Quality of life studies are typically used to gauge the cost-effectiveness of treatments.

They found out of a five possible years of perfect health, those who had any type of stroke lost on average 1.71 quality years due to an earlier death and another 1.08 years due to a reduced quality of life and utility, resulting in a total reduction of nearly 3 quality-adjusted life years following the episode. People who had a TIA experienced on average about 1.7 fewer quality years, those with moderate strokes reduced 3.4 years, and those with severe strokes saw reductions in more than 4 quality years.

Suffering subsequent strokes after a TIA significantly reduced quality of life even further.

"TIA, on its own, would be expected to have little impact on quality of life; however, the combined impact of medication, anxiety about suffering subsequent events and, for those in employment, the impact on their working life will impact quality of life," study co-author Ramon Luengo-Fernandez, an associate research fellow at Oxford, said to HealthDay.

Luengo-Fernandez said there already are some cost-effective stroke prevention methods, including medications to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, which raise risk for stroke. Not smoking and reducing risk for diabetes may also help, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes.

The American Stroke Association adds if you think you're having a stroke, it's essential to call 9-1-1 immediately. Signs of a stroke include face drooping on one side, one arm drifting downward when trying to raise both, and slurred or strange speech.

The new research was published Oct. 9 in Neurology.