The Stroke Association is funding the world’s first study to determine the long-term impact of Covid-19 on stroke survivors. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic there have been widespread reports of adults with the virus also having strokes. The charity announces this new study today, amid concerns that the virus may be causing more severe strokes in patients whom doctors are struggling to treat.

It is thought that the virus could be increasing the chance of blood clots forming in the brain and blocking blood flow. The Stroke Association is funding this vital research to investigate the difference the virus could make to stroke recoveries, which are already at risk due to disruption to stroke services caused by the pandemic.

The study will establish which differences in patients with and without the virus may influence their needs for treatment and care, including how to avoid the risk of having further strokes.

Researchers at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) led by Dr Richard Perry will follow up to 4,000 stroke survivors, with and without Covid-19 from across 13 emergency stroke units. Stroke recovery, rehabilitation and health will be tracked for up to 18 months after their stroke. Researchers will collect and assess comprehensive, specialist medical information from stroke patients, including brain scans, blood samples and measures of disability. The findings will help to understand how Covid-19 impacts stroke recovery and which treatments might best support survivors’ recoveries.

Dr Terry Quinn at the University of Glasgow works with the UCLH team on their Covid-19 and stroke research, he said: “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.  From the beginning of the pandemic, I would see patients admitted with unusual strokes, who would then go on to have a positive Covid-19 test. This vital research will help us understand why this happens.

“The findings from this year-long 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’ve come a long way since the start of the pandemic. In the early days of the pandemic, stroke teams from across the UK came together to share their experiences and data. I was part of this collaborative activity and the exchange of information was crucial for delivering the best possible stroke care. This work had no external support and was reliant on busy clinicians giving up their time. Stroke clinicians will continue to engage with the new project, but the Stroke Association funding will allow us to achieve things that would not be possible without this support.”

Stroke is a sudden brain attack, stroke strikes every five minutes in the UK, and there are more than 128,000 stroke survivors living in Scotland. It’s estimated there will be around 173,000 by 2035.

Dr 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’s extremely concerning that we’re 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’s 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’s 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 announced the world’s largest study to confirm if Covid-19 increases the risk of stroke and by how much. Together with the new research announced today, the two studies will help doctors to prevent and best treat Covid-19 strokes in the people who are most at risk.

Over the past 30 years the Stroke Association has played a crucial role in supporting stroke research in the UK. Research helps stroke survivors rebuild their lives, but the pandemic has hit research hard. By saving stroke research, more sure stroke survivors can live life to the full.

Find out how stroke research helps rebuild lives at stroke.org.uk/rebuildinglives or to donate, please visit: stroke.org.uk/saveresearch.