New treatment for stroke boosts chances of recovery

STROKE is Australia's second biggest killer and a leading cause of disability, with about 500,000 Australians having a stroke every year.

According to the Australian Stroke Foundation, a stroke happens when blood supply to the brain is interrupted.

This may occur because the artery is blocked (ischaemic stroke) or bursts (haemorrhagic stroke).

When brain cells do not get enough oxygen or nutrients, they die.

Your risk of having a stroke increases as you get older and men are also more likely to have a stroke.

Now a new treatment for stroke is set to increase the chances of recovery.

A landmark Australian-led study, by The George Institute of Global Health, found that intensive blood pressure lowering in patients with intracerebral haemorrhage (spontaneous bleeding within the brain), reduced the risk of major disability and improved chances of recovery by as much as 20%.

The study, which involved more than 2800 patients from 140 hospitals around the world was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Intracerebral haemorrhage affects more than 10% of those who have a stroke, kills one third of them and leaves most survivors with disability.

Professor Bruce Neal of The George Institute and The University of Sydney said the study would bring significant changes to guidelines for stroke management worldwide.

"By lowering blood pressure, we can slow bleeding in the brain, reduce damage and enhance recovery," Professor Neal said.

"The only treatment option to date has been risky brain surgery, so this research is a very welcome advance."

In Australia, the number of people living with disability as a result of stroke has risen by 20% from approximately 350,000 in 2000 to 420,000 in 2012.

National Stroke Foundation chief executive Erin Lalor, said the findings provided new hope for stroke survivors and their families but highlighted the need to get to hospital as quickly as possible if a stroke was suspected.

"The sooner a medical team is able to lower the patient's blood pressure, the greater their chances of leaving hospital with a good outcome," Dr Lalor said.