Claiming a life every six seconds, it seems fair to say that stroke has reached epidemic proportions. In Europe alone, it accounts for 1.1 million deaths each year — that’s 10% of all deaths in men and 15% of all deaths in women. Today’s annual World Stroke Day is a poignant reminder to all of us that this disease should be at the top of our agenda.
When I look at forecasts, I am struck by the steep increase in the burden of stroke that is on the horizon. The number of stroke events in Europe will rise to 1.5 million by 2025. Stroke is considered a leading cause of long-term disability and the leading preventable cause of disability in Europe. And, for me, preventable is the key word here. It begs the question what more could we do to change the trajectory of stroke?
Approximately 87% of all strokes are Acute Ischaemic Stroke (AIS), occurring when a blood clot prevents blood flow to the brain. The difference between life and death, and functional independence or disability, is tied to timely restoration of blood flow to the oxygen-starved brain after a stroke occurs.
There are two treatments recognised as the current standard of care for AIS; blood thinning drugs such as antithrombotic agents, and a minimally invasive clot removal procedure called mechanical thrombectomy.
Antithrombotic agents reduce the risk of stroke and prolong life, but their use can arguably be disruptive to the patient day-to-day — posing challenges and requiring frequent, regular doctor visits to monitor treatment.
On the other side, during the mechanical thrombectomy a catheter is threaded through an artery to the brain so the blood clot can be physically captured and quickly removed with the likes of stent retrievers, swiftly restoring blood flow. For me, it’s advances in this type of technology — and the resulting fast and complete recanalization of the occluded vessel — that define innovation in medtech.
Recently, a new procedural goal was established within mechanical thrombectomy — the first pass effect. This means complete recanalization after only one try. This is providing new hope for patients since this is a strong predictor for good functional outcome.
Clearly, huge strides have been made in advancing stroke treatment. But, given that stroke is currently the second most common cause of death in Europe, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.
I believe more can — and should — be done to develop a deeper understanding of how we deal with blood clots and occlusions to treat this challenging and devastating disease.
There is a very real need to continue to provide physicians with innovative technologies that ensure we push the boundaries of what’s possible in stroke care. We must also look to address real pain points for doctors who treat stroke, by helping them work more efficiently, increase patient access and achieve a higher success rate across all neurovascular cases.
Today, on World Stroke Day, I urge you to join the global movement to fight stroke. Together, we must raise awareness around the signs and symptoms and the need for early detection and treatment of this condition. In 2019, stroke shouldn’t be a life sentence.