Stroke rate expected to increase 40%

The rate of strokes is due to rise by 40% by 2028, as both the country’s population and the proportion of elderly people increases, an Otago university researcher says.

University of Otago Wellington campus Department of Medicine head Associate Prof Anna Ranta’s research appeared in the New Zealand Medical Journal yesterday. 

"We knew it would go up but didn’t expect the increase to be quite this high," she said.

The projected increase emphasised New Zealand’s health sector needed to implement stroke prevention programmes, and intervention strategies,  Prof Ranta said.

"Quitting smoking is the most important step an individual can take as regards a single lifestyle change," she said.

"But high blood pressure and diabetes are now the biggest overall risk factors at the population level and getting regular blood pressure checks, exercising, and reducing salt and sugar intake are just as important."

Around 89,000 New Zealanders  a year have a stroke and 50,000 people live with the aftermath of a stroke. The annual cost has been estimated at $700million.

Prof Ranta said when it came to educating the public, she recognised the importance of awareness campaigns in the media.

"I’m increasingly convinced that we should also be teaching health promotion including stroke education in school," she said.

An effective way of managing stroke in an emergency in regional hospitals is by "telestroke", a technique that helps improve out-of-hour patient access to IV thrombolysis in provincial hospitals through remote expert support, using video conferencing. An evaluation co-authored by  Prof Ranta with Suzanne Busch about telestroke was also published in the Medical Journal, looking at a case study in Nelson on the discontinuation of telestroke after a six-month pilot.

"Although telestroke is a very useful technique, it does not result in sufficient local staff upskilling to retain improved treatment rates once remote expert support is withdrawn," she said. 

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