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Oxford vascular disease study celebrates 20 years

A University of Oxford study developing diagnostic tests and treatments for vascular diseases including strokes, heart attacks and aneurysms has celebrated its 20th anniversary.

The Oxford Vascular Study (OxVasc) has recruited nearly 13,000 patients from Oxfordshire hospitals for detailed clinical assessments, blood tests and follow-up.

The aim is to determine whether faster investigation and treatment can prevent early disease recurrence.

OxVasc has provided vital data on the frequency, trends, causes, outcomes and treatment of strokes, transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs or mini-strokes), heart attacks and other circulatory problems, as well as subsequent complications such as dementia. 

The study has discovered several neurological symptoms commonly preceding major strokes, showed urgent treatment can reduce major stroke risk by 80% and identified fluctuating blood pressure as a powerful risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.

Results have led to major changes in clinical practice locally and internationally including development and implementation of emergency stroke prevention clinics and use of at-home mobile phone blood pressure monitoring.

Patients are enrolled and assessed in hospital or following GP referral and complete home monitoring of blood pressure and heart rhythms.   

Relatives and friends can also participate to enable comparisons between those who have had a vascular event and those who have not. 

Antonia, a 67-year-old teacher from South Oxfordshire, had a TIA in November 2021.

Generally very healthy, Antonia felt disoriented at work and experienced a loss of vision. She said: “It was grey and fuzzy, quite surreal. The actual TIA lasted around two or three minutes but it seemed longer.

“It was only when I got home and started explaining it to my daughter. She looked horrified and said I should see a doctor.” 

Her GP contacted the Oxford Vascular team who found a small acute stroke on her MRI brain scan.

Antonia said: “It’s hard to take it all in when you don’t have the health risk factors. It never occurred to me that something related to strokes could happen to me. When they asked me if I’d like to take part in the study, I was very happy to. I am curious about other possible causes, as I don’t have the usual risk factors. 

“It has helped me so much. They do so many tests and they explain everything to you. It has helped me to understand what happened, but also be active in preventing it. Research like this is important in raising awareness among people so they can be more active in preventing themselves or their family from having a stroke.”

Professor Peter Rothwell, who leads the study, said: “We are delighted to have reached 20 years of recruitment and we want to thank all of the patients and their relatives in Oxfordshire who have helped us so much, as well as the local general practices who help make the study possible. 

“The study is a good example of how relatively simple clinical research can still provide insights that substantially improve patient care as well as allowing us to study the causes of disease.”

OxVasc is coordinated by the University’s Wolfson Centre for the Prevention of Stroke and Dementia in partnership with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The study is aiming to continue recruiting until 2027 and to follow participants until 2032. It is funded by the Wellcome Trust, The Stroke Association, British Heart Foundation, Masonic Charitable Foundation and the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, a partnership between Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Oxford.

Read more on the BRC website.