Stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain either suddenly becomes blocked (ischaemic stroke) or ruptures and begins to bleed (haemorrhagic stroke). Either may result in part of the brain dying, leading to sudden impairment that can affect a number of functions. Stroke often causes paralysis of parts of the body normally controlled by the area of the brain affected by the stroke, or speech problems and other symptoms, such as difficulties with swallowing, vision and thinking.

Stroke is often preventable because many of its risk factors are modifiable. These include biomedical risk factors such as high blood pressure, insufficient physical activity, overweight and obesity, and tobacco smoking. Stroke contributes to premature death, disability, and preventable hospitalisations, consequently a National Strategic Action Plan for Heart Disease and Stroke is under development. The action plan aims to reflect priorities, and identify implementable actions to reduce the impact of stroke in the community.

How common is stroke?

In 2018, an estimated 387,000 people—214,000 males and 173,000 females—had had a stroke at some time in their lives, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (ABS 2019). The estimated prevalence of stroke has declined slightly between 2003 and 2018 (1.7% and 1.3% respectively) (ABS 2019; AIHW 2013).

In 2017, there were around 38,000 stroke events—more than 100 every day. The rate of these events, based on hospital and mortality data, fell 24% between 2001 and 2017, from an age-standardised rate of 169 to 129 per 100,000 population. The rate of decline was greater among those aged 75 and over, when compared to those aged 55–74 (Figure 1).
 

The chart provides the number and rate of stroke events among males and females aged 55-74 and those aged 75 and older between 2001 and 2017. The rate of stroke events has decreased in all groups over this time period. However, the rate of decline was greater among those aged 75 and over compared with the younger age group.

Impact

Deaths

In 2018, stroke was recorded as the underlying cause of 8,400 deaths, accounting for 5.3% of all deaths in Australia. 

Between 1980 and 2018, overall death rates for stroke have fallen by three-quarters (75%), or 3.5% a year.

The rate of decline has remained steady in people aged 75 and over but slowed among younger age groups (Figure 2).

See Causes of death.
 

The chart shows the number and rate of stroke deaths among males and females aged 55-74 and aged 75 and over from 1980 to 2017. The rate of death due to stroke declined across both age groups, and among males and females, over the time period. However, the rate of decline was greater among those aged 75 and older when compared to those aged 55-74.

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Burden of disease

In 2015, stroke accounted for 2.7% of the total burden of disease in Australia and was the 10th leading specific cause of disease burden. Stroke was the third highest disease burden in people aged 85 and over, accounting for 6.6% of the burden in males and 8.1% of the burden in females.

The total burden of disease due to stroke decreased by 41% between 2003 and 2015. This included a 42% decline in the fatal burden and a 30% decline in the non-fatal burden (AIHW 2019a).

See Burden of disease.

Expenditure

In 2015–16, the estimated health system expenditure on stroke was more than $633 million. The greatest cost was for public hospital admitted patient services ($345 million) followed by private hospital services ($105 million) (AIHW 2019b).

See Health expenditure.

Treatment and management

Hospitalisations

In 2017–18, there were almost 40,000 acute care hospitalisations with a principal diagnosis of stroke, at a rate of 133 per 100,000 population. Acute care hospitalisation rates were higher among males than females (1.4 times as high), and most hospitalisations (73%) were for people aged 65 and over.

The average length of stay for stroke patients in acute hospital care was 7 days in 2017–18. Stroke patients in rehabilitation care had an average length of stay of 24 days.

See Hospital care.

Variation between population groups

The impact of stroke varies between population groups, with rates higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than among non-Indigenous Australians.

Death rates and burden of disease were similar in Remote and very remote areas and Major cities. Hospitalisation rates for stroke were 1.4 times as high in Remote and very remote areas as in Major cities. The rate of hospitalisation for stroke was 1.4 times as high in the lowest socioeconomic areas as in the highest (Figure 3).

See Rural and remote health.
 

The figure shows the rate ratio of stroke prevalence, hospitalisation, death and burden of disease among selected population groups in 2017–18.  The prevalence of stroke was 1.6 times as high among Indigenous Australians compared with non-Indigenous Australians. The rate of hospitalisations was 1.4 times as high among those living in Remote and Very Remote areas when compared with those living in Major Cities. The rate of deaths and hospitalisations due to stroke were around 1.3 times as high among those living in the most disadvantaged areas when compared to those living in the least disadvantaged areas.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on stroke, see:

Visit Heart, stroke and vascular disease for more on this topic.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. Customised data report. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2013. Stroke and its management in Australia: an update. Cardiovascular disease series no. 37. Cat. no. CVD 61. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2016. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2011. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 6. Cat. no. BOD 7. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019a. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia, 2015, national estimates for Australia: supplementary tables. Cat. no: BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019b. Disease expenditure in Australia. Cat. no. HWE 76. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019c. National Hospital Morbidity Database. Findings based on unit record analysis. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019d. National Mortality Database. Findings based on unit record analysis. Canberra: AIHW.