A Simple Blood Test Could Predict Your Risk of Stroke and Cognitive Decline

UCLA researchers have found that measuring the concentrations of a network of inflammatory molecules in the blood could help doctors determine a person’s risk for cerebral small vessel disease, a common cause of stroke and cognitive decline.

This study, published in the journal Stroke, could lead to a simple blood test that assesses an individual’s susceptibility to these conditions.

Moving Beyond Traditional Risk Assessment Methods

Currently, the only way to determine a person’s risk for cerebral vascular diseases is through a combination of imaging, family history, demographic variables, and other risk factor evaluations. However, these methods often only identify risk after a patient has experienced a stroke or a warning event.

“The same way one uses cholesterol tests to evaluate one’s future risk for heart attack, we don’t have such a thing to estimate future risk for stroke,” said Dr. Jason Hinman, lead author of the study. “I believe we can do that by something as simple as a blood test which in theory can enable broader access to the best level of care and not lock it behind advanced imaging studies and specialist evaluations.”

The IL-18 Network: A Promising Biomarker

The study focused on a biologically-connected network of inflammatory molecules known as the interleukin-18, or IL-18, network. While past studies have linked individual molecules in this network to cerebral small vessel disease and stroke risk, their concentrations can fluctuate in response to other ailments, making them unreliable predictors at an individual level.

By using blood samples and medical histories from the Framingham Heart Study, a generations-long study tracking the health of thousands of residents in Framingham, Massachusetts, the researchers created a mathematical model that generates a risk score based on the concentrations of the IL-18 network molecules.

Of the more than 2,200 Framingham residents included in the study, those with risk scores in the top 25% had an 84% chance of having a stroke during their lifetime. Overall, elevated risk scores were associated with a 51% increased risk of stroke and resulted in diagnostic prediction compared to existing risk assessment tools.

While further research is needed to determine if and how a person’s risk score can be modified or reduced, this study marks a significant step towards preventing strokes before they happen.

“The real challenge is in the primary care space. Are you at risk before you have an event?” Hinman said. “That’s what we’re all interested in doing is preventing a stroke before it even happens.”

Keyword/Phrase: Blood Test for Stroke Risk

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