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Background: It is often assumed that blood pressure increases acutely after major stroke, resulting in so-called post-stroke hypertension. In view of evidence that the risks and benefits of blood pressure-lowering treatment in acute stroke might differ between patients with major ischaemic stroke and those with primary intracerebral haemorrhage, we compared acute-phase and premorbid blood pressure levels in these two disorders. Methods: In a population-based study in Oxfordshire, UK, we recruited all patients presenting with stroke between April 1, 2002, and March 31, 2012. We compared all acute-phase post-event blood pressure readings with premorbid readings from 10-year primary care records in all patients with acute major ischaemic stroke (National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale > 3) versus those with acute intracerebral haemorrhage. Findings: Of 653 consecutive eligible patients, premorbid and acute-phase blood pressure readings were available for 636 (97%) individuals. Premorbid blood pressure (total readings 13244) had been measured on a median of 17 separate occasions per patient (IQR 8-31). In patients with ischaemic stroke, the first acute-phase systolic blood pressure was much lower than after intracerebral haemorrhage (158·5 mm Hg [SD 30·1] vs 189·8 mm Hg [38·5] , p < 0·0001; for patients not on antihypertensive treatment 159·2 mm Hg [27·8] vs 193·4 mm Hg [37·4] , p < 0·0001), was little higher than premorbid levels (increase of 10·6 mm Hg vs 10-year mean premorbid level), and decreased only slightly during the first 24 h (mean decrease from < 90 min to 24 h 13·6 mm Hg). By contrast with findings in ischaemic stroke, the mean first systolic blood pressure after intracerebral haemorrhage was substantially higher than premorbid levels (mean increase of 40·7 mm Hg, p < 0·0001) and fell substantially in the first 24 h (mean decrease of 41·1 mm Hg; p=0·0007 for difference from decrease in ischaemic stroke). Mean systolic blood pressure also increased steeply in the days and weeks before intracerebral haemorrhage (regression p < 0·0001) but not before ischaemic stroke. Consequently, the first acute-phase blood pressure reading after primary intracerebral haemorrhage was more likely than after ischaemic stroke to be the highest ever recorded (OR 3·4, 95% CI 2·3-5·2, p < 0·0001). In patients with intracerebral haemorrhage seen within 90 min, the highest systolic blood pressure within 3 h of onset was 50 mm Hg higher, on average, than the maximum premorbid level whereas that after ischaemic stroke was 5·2 mm Hg lower (p < 0·0001). Interpretation: Our findings suggest that systolic blood pressure is substantially raised compared with usual premorbid levels after intracerebral haemorrhage, whereas acute-phase systolic blood pressure after major ischaemic stroke is much closer to the accustomed long-term premorbid level, providing a potential explanation for why the risks and benefits of lowering blood pressure acutely after stroke might be expected to differ. Funding: Wellcome Trust, Wolfson Foundation, UK Medical Research Council, Stroke Association, British Heart Foundation, National Institute for Health Research. © 2014 Rothwell et al. Open Access article distributed under the terms of CC BY.

Original publication




Journal article


The Lancet Neurology

Publication Date





374 - 384