People, especially the young who think getting infected with COVID-19 will cause no harm like water off a duck’s back, are at a higher risk of suffering from various types of stroke, according to an international study by 90 researchers from 136 academic institutions around the world including the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI).
Ever since the coronavirus became a wide-spread global pandemic, medical researchers have sought to understand how the virus impacts other medical ailments, especially neurological ones.
Early last year, New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital reported that five younger patients stricken with COVID-19 suffered strokes after their diagnosis. This worrisome report led researchers to fear that the virus could lead to an increase of stroke risk even in patients with no history of affiliated conditions such as like high blood pressure, diabetes or smoking. In the latest most comprehensive study of this correlation, researchers found a definite increase in stroke incidence among younger patients as compared to a similar age-group prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
They have just published their findings in the journal Stroke under the title “SARS-CoV-2 and Stroke Characteristics: A Report from the Multinational COVID-19 Stroke Study Group.”
HUJI’s Prof. Ronen Leker contributed to this retrospective research, which analyzed data from patients who tested positive for the coronavirus after they had been hospitalized for stroke and other serious brain events. The researchers analyzed whether there were differences in the MRIs of patient after contracting COVID-19 and after the onset of their stroke. The researchers also examined whether there were geographic factors that impacted the severity of the stroke.
Of the 136 different medical centers in 32 countries, at least 71 reported a patient who had a stroke during their hospitalization for coronavirus or shortly thereafter. Of the 432 patients, 323 (74.8%) had acute ischemic stroke, 91 (21.1%) intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding within the skull), and 18 (4.2%) cerebral venous or sinus thrombosis (clots).
Most troubling was the high occurrence of ischemic strokes – caused by a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the brain and reduces the blood flow and oxygen, leading to damage or death of brain cells – in younger patients with no known existence of the types of ‘classical’ risk factors that contribute to the onset of stroke.
Of the 14,483 patients with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2, 172 were diagnosed with an acute cerebrovascular event, 40.5% were female and just 55.8% between the ages 60 and 79 years.
Of the 380 patients who were known to have experienced strokes alongside COVID-19, close to 38% (144 patients) had no recognizable symptoms from the virus, such as cough, fever; the diagnosis came only after they were admitted to the hospital for stroke.
The mortality rate is high for COVID-19-associated cerebrovascular complications; therefore, aggressive monitoring and early intervention should be pursued to mitigate poor outcomes, the authors concluded.
“This study further strengthened our understanding of the connection between the coronavirus and strokes in younger patients, as a result of blockages in larger blood vessels,” Leker explained. “Going forward, we recommend performing COVID testing on all younger patients with strokes, particularly those with no known pre-existing conditions. I am hopeful and confident that this study will be instrumental in providing a better understanding of the link between COVID-19 and stroke, and provide direct therapeutic benefits to patients.”