Is there a link between COVID-19 and stroke?

May 27, 2020 | by Hurmina Muqtadar, MD
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and major cause of long-term disability in adults.

Stroke occurs due to sudden blockage of blood flow to the brain and causes sudden neurological deficits. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes are leading causes of stroke. Now there is growing evidence that COVID-19 infection may also increase the risk of stroke.

While nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over age 65, strokes are now striking people with COVID-19 who are in their 30s and 40s. The Washington Post reported that otherwise healthy young and middle-age individuals with mild symptoms of COVID-19 are dying from strokes. The reason isn't clear.

Experts believe the strokes may be a result of blood clots caused by the virus. While mini-strokes often don’t cause permanent damage, bigger ones can be catastrophic. Preliminary data suggests patients with COVID-19 are mostly experiencing severe or large strokes — which can destroy parts of the brain responsible for movement, speech and decision-making.

During this pandemic, it is especially important to be vigilant and aware of stroke signs. If someone has stroke symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Even a large stroke is treatable if you act fast.        

“Time is brain” is something doctors say when it comes to treating a patient who’s having a stroke. Every second can mean the difference between life and death, total independence or long-term disability.

Do not ignore the symptoms due to concerns of exposure to coronavirus. Read the Edward-Elmhurst Safety Commitment.

BE FAST can help stroke patients get the treatment needed, on time, for a good outcome.

B: Balance. Does the person have a sudden loss of balance?
E. Eyes. Has the person lost vision in one or both eyes?
F: Face. Does the person’s face look uneven?
A: Arms. Is one arm weak or numb?
S: Speech. Is the person’s speech slurred? Does the person have trouble speaking or seem confused?
T: Time. If you see these signs in yourself or anyone, call 911 immediately.

Stroke can occur at any age but risk increases with age. Other factors can increase your chances of having a stroke, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and bad eating habits.

Up to 80 percent of strokes may be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle. Here are five ways to help decrease your chances of stroke:

  1. Lower your blood pressure. Left uncontrolled, high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors and can double or even quadruple your chance for stroke.
  2. Lose excess weight and eat healthy. Obesity increases your chance for stroke. Losing as few as 10 pounds can help decrease your risk.
  3. Quit smoking. Smoking can thicken your blood and increase the amount of plaque build-up in your arteries — two things that can accelerate clot formation.
  4. Exercise more, or start exercising. Physical activity can help lower the risk of stroke. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly.
  5. Manage health conditions. Conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol can increase your chance for stroke so it’s important to stay on top of them.

Stroke survivors should continue taking their medications as directed by their doctor and be extra careful about protecting themselves from COVID-19.

For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

Learn more about our emergency care.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we strive to provide the fastest, most efficient and effective stroke care possible. Learn about our stroke and vascular services.

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

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