AS WE’VE watched or experienced horrors caused by Covid-19 over the last year, we’ve discovered that some people with Covid-19, including patients in Scotland, have gone on to have strokes. There is now mounting evidence that Covid-19 may cause strokes. We’re concerned about this, given the grim reality of stroke – Scotland’s fourth biggest killer and a leading cause of disability.

Nobody wants to get Covid-19 and to also have a stroke, is an unbearable thought.

That is why we’re funding urgent research at the University of Edinburgh. Dr William Whiteley, reader in neurology, is a leader on one of the world’s largest studies into Covid-19 and stroke. The study will look at health data of around 65 million people in the UK to reliably calculate risk of stroke in Covid-19 patients.

The Covid-19 virus could be increasing the chance of clots forming that can then travel to the brain causing a stroke. Depending on the part of the brain affected, strokes can result in losing the ability to speak, to walk or personality changes. The number of people in Scotland living with strokes could rise to over 170,000 by 2035. And by 2035, the costs to health and social care in Scotland due to stroke, is predicted to rise to over £4.5 billion.

Our charity wants to do everything we can to prevent the rise in numbers of stroke survivors living with the devastating effects of stroke. We cannot let Covid-19 get in the way.

This exciting study can only been pulled off due to the collaborative efforts of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Data Centre and Health Data Research UK. The research infrastructure, including access to an enormous amount of health data and expert data scientists enables a study of this scale to happen. This new research will help tell us if Covid-19 increases risk of stroke, for whom, and by how much. This is critical missing information that is needed to inform the development of new treatments that can prevent life-threatening strokes.

The quality of stroke research undertaken in Scotland is impressive. Almost a third of the Stroke Association’s spend on research is at Scottish universities. And many stroke research successes have been realised as a result of partnership working. Research can make a real difference to the lives of people affected by stroke. It can find new ways and drive improvements in how we can stop stroke happening, treat and support people after stroke.

We look forward to seeing the draft model for improved Scottish stroke services in the next few months. Whatever the outcome of May’s election we look forward to working with the government to see improvements delivered from hospital care through to rehabilitation and community support. Evidence from our funded research has to be taken on board as that work progresses.

Covid-19 is a challenge enough– but it’s worrying that a deadly stroke might also be on the way. Covid-19 is going to be with us for the foreseeable future, so we hope this critical research may help to prevent stroke-related death and disability.

Dr Rubina Ahmed is Research Director, Stroke Association