New blood test predicts stroke risk

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Researchers from UCLA Health have made a breakthrough with a simple blood test that could predict the likelihood of stroke or mental decline over a person’s lifetime.

The findings of this study were recently published in the journal Stroke, and they have sparked hope for earlier intervention and better management of stroke risks.

Traditionally, assessing the risk of cerebral vascular diseases, which are often precursors to strokes and cognitive deterioration, has involved complex methods like MRI scans, analyzing family health history, and looking into demographic factors.

Dr. Jason Hinman, the lead researcher from UCLA’s Comprehensive Stroke Center and the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Care, explained that until now, neurologists could only determine a patient’s risk after they had already suffered a stroke or similar cerebral event.

The research introduces a new approach by focusing on a group of inflammatory molecules in the blood, specifically the interleukin-18 (IL-18) network. This network comprises proteins and signaling molecules that play roles in combating infections.

While individual molecules in this network have previously been linked to cerebral small vessel disease and stroke risk, their levels can vary with other illnesses like the flu or autoimmune diseases, making them unreliable for assessing stroke risk individually.

However, Dr. Hinman’s study has shown promise in using a combined analysis of these molecules to predict stroke risk effectively. This concept isn’t entirely new in medicine—for instance, cholesterol levels have long been used to predict the risk of heart attacks.

Similarly, Dr. Hinman believes that analyzing the IL-18 network in the blood could serve as a predictive tool for strokes, making this crucial information more accessible without the need for expensive imaging or specialized medical evaluations.

This new method was tested using health data from the long-standing Framingham Heart Study, which has been tracking the health of thousands of residents from Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948.

By examining blood samples that had been collected over the years and had been tested for certain molecules of the IL-18 network, the researchers developed a mathematical model that calculates a person’s stroke risk based on these molecule concentrations.

Results from the study showed that individuals with the highest risk scores—those in the top 25%—had an 84% likelihood of experiencing a stroke in their lifetime.

In comparison, the overall findings suggested a 51% increased stroke risk for those with elevated scores compared to other risk assessment methods currently in use.

The implications of this research are vast, especially in primary care settings where the goal is to prevent a stroke before it occurs.

Dr. Hinman stressed the importance of understanding whether and how a person’s risk score might be modified or reduced, indicating areas for further research.

As the study gains traction, it could revolutionize how medical professionals approach stroke prevention, moving from a reactive to a proactive stance in healthcare.

This simpler, more accessible testing method could potentially save many lives by allowing earlier and more precise identification of those at risk, leading to better targeted interventions and care strategies.

If you care about stroke, please read studies about how to eat to prevent stroke, and diets high in flavonoids could help reduce stroke risk.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about how Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and wild blueberries can benefit your heart and brain.

The research findings can be found in Stroke.

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