Leading UK charity the Stroke Association is funding what it claims will be the world’s first study to determine the long-term impact of COVID-19 on stroke survivors. The study will attempt to establish how differences in patients with and without the virus may influence their treatment and care needs—including how they can avoid the risk of having further strokes.
In the study, researchers at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) will follow up to 4,000 stroke survivors, with and without COVID-19, from across 13 emergency stroke units, tracking stroke recovery, rehabilitation and health, for up to 18 months after they have experienced a stroke.
Researchers will collect and assess comprehensive, specialist medical information from these stroke patients, including brain scans, blood samples and measures of disability, with the findings intending to help build an understanding of how the viral infection impacts stroke recovery, as well as which treatments could best support survivors’ recoveries.
“Research that compares stroke in patients with and without COVID-19 is essential to understand if COVID-19 results in more severe strokes, where survivors will need more support to recover from its devastating effects,” said Richard Perry, lead researcher at UCLH. “While redeployed to stroke wards at the start of the pandemic, I would see patients admitted with unusual strokes, who would then go on to have a positive COVID-19 test.
“The findings from this study will inform decisions about the most effective treatment and the rehabilitation needs of this group of patients, including prevention of recurrent stroke. We already know that from the moment a person has a stroke, or mini-stroke, they are at substantial increased risk of further strokes.
“We have come a long way since the start of the pandemic. I am incredibly proud of stroke doctors and researchers throughout the UK who generously gave their time to contribute to the early stages of our study on the impact of COVID-19 on stroke, when we had no resources and were entirely dependent on their goodwill. This much-needed funding means we can continue the urgent work.”
According to a statement from the Stroke Association, there have been widespread reports of adults with COVID-19 also having strokes since the start of the pandemic, and the charity has announced this new study amid concerns that the virus may be causing more severe strokes in patients that doctors are struggling to treat.
It is believed that the virus could be increasing the chance of blood clots forming in the brain and blocking blood flow. The Stroke Association is therefore funding this “vital research” to investigate the difference COVID-19 could make to stroke recoveries—which are already at risk due to disruption to stroke-related services caused by the pandemic.
Rubina Ahmed, research director at the Stroke Association, said: “Stroke is a leading cause of adult disability in the UK and the second biggest killer in the world. It is extremely concerning that we are seeing strokes happening in ways we have not seen before. This research is absolutely critical in understanding and treating stroke after COVID-19, to help reduce the devastating effects, and ultimately improve lives. COVID-19 is here to stay, so it is vital we can prevent and treat strokes linked with the virus.
“The pandemic has shattered our fundraised income and is threatening research that drives life-changing breakthroughs in stroke care. As a result of the pandemic, we have had to halve our budget for stroke research. Research improves treatment and care for people affected by stroke so they can live their best lives possible, and that is why stroke research is worth saving. Now, more than ever, we need the public’s support. If you can, please help us find a way through the research funding crisis by donating today, so that we can fund more life-saving research.”
In February, the Stroke Association also announced the world’s largest study to confirm whether COVID-19 increases the risk of stroke, and to show by how much. Together with the newly-announced research at UCLH, the UK charity has stated the two studies will help doctors to prevent and best treat COVID-19 strokes in the people who are most at risk.