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Even Minor Strokes May Take Years Off Life: Study

Prevention is crucial, neurologists agree

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Denise Mann

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Despite life-saving advances in treating strokes, these "brain attacks" can shave years off of a person's life and seriously impair the quality of the years they have left, a new study shows.

The damage is most pronounced after a severe stroke, but even those people who have a so-called mini-stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) are at risk. The new findings appear online in the Oct. 9 issue of the journal Neurology.

Experts stress that preventing strokes by taking control of known risk factors such as high blood pressure remains the best way to improve the outlook for patients. Strokes occur when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked. The National Stroke Association estimates that as many as 80 percent of strokes are preventable.

In the new study, nearly 750 people who had a stroke and about 450 who experienced a TIA were followed for five years. They completed questionnaires about their post-stroke quality of life. Of the full-blown strokes, close to 60 percent were considered minor, 23 percent were moderate and 18 percent were severe.

When compared to members of the general population, a person who has a stroke will, on average, lose 1.71 out of five years of perfect health due to an earlier death. In addition, the stroke will cost them another 1.08 years due to reduced quality of life, the study found.

In total, people who have had strokes lose an average of 2.79 "quality-adjusted life years." This is a measure that quantifies survival and quality of life in the same scale.

And the more severe the stroke, the greater the loss in terms of quality-adjusted life years, the study showed. Older people, women and those who had a second stroke also were at higher risk for worsening quality of life and earlier death after the stroke.

Exactly how strokes affect quality of life varies. They can hamper a person's ability to walk, talk or perform daily activities such as bathing, eating and getting dressed.

"The degree to which a stroke will impact an individual's quality of life will be driven by the severity of the event," said study co-author Ramon Luengo-Fernandez, a senior researcher and associate research fellow at the University of Oxford, in England. "Whereas in many cases a minor stroke may have little impact on a patient's life, a severe stroke will almost invariably pose a considerable negative impact."

This study is believed to be the first to assign such a value to mini-strokes. Like a stroke, a TIA is marked by an inability to move, numbness on one side of the body or difficulty speaking. Unlike in many strokes, however, these symptoms often are fleeting and leave little or no signs of permanent damage to the brain. Still, the study showed that they do affect quality of life going forward.

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