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New approach needed to tackle stroke prevention

Melbourne researchers have found that current primary stroke prevention measures are insufficient and fragmented and a more holistic approach is “urgently” needed.

The research, published in Lancet Public Health, proposes a combined approach where behavioural, pharmacological and structural interventions are used in conjunction to tackle stroke prevention more effectively.

Dr Lisa Murphy, Stroke Foundation Executive Director, Stroke Services and Research and co-author of the research paper, said primary stroke prevention strategies are predominately targeted at behavioural changes like quitting smoking, eating healthily and exercising, and are effective at an individual level but there needs to be a broader approach.

“For example, awareness campaigns to improve healthy eating or physical activity are unlikely to be successful if there is poor access to healthy foods or few spaces for physical activity. These are structural factors that need to be addressed for the behavioural and pharmacological elements to be effective.”

The research proposes a toolkit to bring this combination approach to fruition. It involves integrating behavioural interventions, such as improving lifestyle, pharmacological interventions such as medication management and knowledge, and structural interventions such as collaborating with other countries, policy changes and providing a healthier environment.

“We hope this collaborative approach will minimise the current fragmentation and inefficiency of primary stroke prevention to benefit not only stroke patients, but the healthcare system overall,” Murphy said.

More than 27,400 Australians had a stroke for the first time in their lives in 2020 — that is one stroke every 19 minutes. Currently, stroke costs Australia $6bn annually, but a further $26bn is lost in wellbeing due to short- and long-term disability and premature death.

However, a Deloitte study estimates that by 2025, $2.6bn in economic and wellbeing costs can be saved by improving access to stroke care and reducing high blood pressure. Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Officer, Sharon McGowan, welcomes the research and the impact it could have on reducing the economic and human burden of stroke. She said its findings are timely, as the new Australian Government will be considering initiatives which support the National Strategic Action Plan for Heart Disease and Stroke.

“We know that 80% of strokes are preventable so anything we can to do improve on current prevention strategies and reduce incidence of stroke in our community and the burden of stroke on the Australian economy is welcomed.”

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