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Strokes and iron deficiency

Iron deficiency may lead to an increased risk of suffering a stroke.

This discovery has just been announced from scientists at Imperial College in London.


Every year over 150,000 people in England alone suffer a stroke; strokes are the third largest cause of death after heart disease and cancer. People over 65 years of age are most at risk and scientists say that their findings could help with stroke prevention.

What they have discovered is that iron deficiency increases the stickiness of small blood cells called platelets. These platelets can then stick together which can initiate blood clotting.

Interestingly, a link between iron deficiency and sticky platelets was first suggested nearly 40 years ago but although some work has been done on the subject, somehow it went off the main radar and it is thanks to the Imperial College research that it is once again top news.

The latest research involved a group of patients with a rare disease (HHT).  Normally special filter systems in the lungs’ blood vessels work as a filter, removing small clots before the blood goes into the arteries. In some of the patients with HHT, blood was able to bypass this filter system and travel to the brain.  As part of the study, the team found that patients who were short of iron were more likely to have a stroke.   The researchers also found that when they treated platelets with a substance that can trigger blood clotting, the platelets from people with low iron levels clotted the most.

Ischaemic stroke, the most common form of stroke, occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted by small clots.

More work is being undertaken. Dr Claire Shovlin from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College said the next step is to see if the chances of high-risk patients can be reduced by treating iron deficiency.

In the meantime, if you believe someone may be having a stroke, remember the word FAST. This stands for Face- Arms - Speech - Time. Look out for:

- Face - if the face droops on one side, or cannot smile evenly
- Arms - if the person cannot lift one or both arms and keep them up because of weakness or numbness
- Speech - if speech becomes slurred or garbled, or if the person finds it difficult to talk
- Time - if you see any of these symptoms and suspect a stroke, dial 999 immediately.

A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate professional attention.


More information is available at


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