Heart Health Articles

Most Europeans Significantly Underestimate Their Stroke Risk

August 07, 2017

A pan-European survey, revealed for the first time today to coincide with European Stroke Prevention Day, has found that over three times as many Europeans consider burglary and mugging to be a bigger risk than stroke (30 percent vs. 9 percent). This is despite the fact that stroke claims the lives of an estimated 650,000 people in Europe each year, and almost a quarter (23 percent) of Europeans questioned were found to have two risk factors for stroke.

The prevalence of hypertension (high blood pressure) and stroke in Europe is worryingly high compared to other countries such as the United States and Canada; with the incidence of hypertension 60 percent higher in Europe[1]. Controlling your blood pressure (BP) is the most effective way to reduce the risk of stroke[2], yet thirty-five percent of those questioned in the survey suffered from high blood pressure. For every 10 people who die of stroke, 4 may be saved if their BP had been controlled.[3]

Commenting on the results of the survey, Arne Hagen, president of SAFE, said that lack of awareness about stroke and its risk factors could be putting the lives of Europeans at risk.

"Stroke the third biggest cause of death in many countries, and the most common cause of adult physical disability in Europe. Worryingly, only 28 percent of those questioned were aware of this. Stroke is, however, a 'preventable catastrophe'. Controlling blood pressure, via improved diet and lifestyle and with proven therapy for example, is one of the most effective ways to help reduce the risk of stroke. It's vital that Europeans get their blood pressure checked and become more stroke aware." He said.

High blood pressure affects approximately 600 million people worldwide[4] but can be lowered by achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, healthy diet, exercising and taking medications prescribed by a physician[5]. Proven preventative treatments are now available that can reduce the risk of stroke in hypertensive patients.[6]

The survey results are being released to coincide with European Stroke Prevention day, a pan-European initiative to raise public awareness of stroke and to improve primary stroke prevention through a variety of measures, including a more thorough treatment of hypertension.


Stroke is the term given to the sudden death of brain cells when blockage or rupture of an artery impairs the blood flow to the brain. Typically, a clot forms in a small blood vessel within the brain, which has been narrowed due to long-term damage.

Stroke may also result from:

-- A blood clot or a fatty deposit (atherosclerotic plaque) breaking loose and lodging in an artery of the brain, thus stopping the flow of blood.

-- A blood clot forming in a chamber of a heart which is beating irregularly (as in atrial fibrillation), breaking off and forming a plug (embolism) in the brain artery.

-- A cerebral haemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) from an aneurysm (widening and weakening) of a blood vessel in the brain.

The European Patient Stroke (EPS) Survey

The EPS survey was conducted, as a follow up to a similar survey conducted in the UK in 2005, to gain an insight into public opinion on and awareness of stroke and its risk factors across Europe. The aim was to determine if a similar level of misunderstanding of stroke and stroke prevention is prevalent throughout Europe.

Methods and sample

1,000 representative adults (18-55+) from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden were asked questions regarding their knowledge of and attitudes towards stroke and its risk factors. Respondents were also asked more general questions about life experiences, in order to put fear of stroke in context. The survey was conduced on-line, thereby eliminating any 'conformist bias' which can arise when respondents feel pressured into answering a certain way in the presence of an interviewer.

European Stroke Prevention Day

The first European Stroke Prevention Day (ESPD) was held on May 10th 2005 and the second is being held on 10th May 2006.

The main objectives of the day are to:

_ Raise public awareness of stroke
_ Improve primary stroke prevention through a variety of means

To coincide with the day, and in addition to the EPS survey, a patient risk leaflet has been developed to help people to identify stroke risks and to offer advice on preventative action.


[1] Wolf-Maier k, et al. Hypertension Prevalence and Blood Pressure Levels in 6 European Countries, Canada, and the United States. JAMA. 2003;289: 2363-2369
[2] World Health Organization. Global Burden of Stroke. Available at:
www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/en/cvd_atlas_15_burden_stroke.pdf. Last accessed 16/0206
[3] World Health Organization. Deaths form Stroke. Accessed on 16.02.2006.
Available at:
www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/en/cvd_atlas_16_death_from_stroke.pdf. Last accessed 03/0206
[4] Stroke Alliance for Europe (SAFE). Available at:
www.safestroke/index.html. Last accessed 03/02/06
[5] Heart Health. Preventing a Stroke. Available at:
www.quakeroatmeal/hearthealth/UHH/Hypertension.cfm?ArticleID=133. Last accessed 03/0206
[6] Mpelembe Network. Treatment of Hypertension. Available at:
mpelembe.mappibiz/archives_02/stroke.html. Last accessed 03/02/06