Coronavirus might lead to strokes, major study shows

Coronavirus patients are at an increased risk of experiencing a stroke compared to individuals of similar age, a major international study with the participation of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has found. In many cases, the patients did not present any typical symptoms of COVID-19, nor any pre-existing risk factor.

Some 132 centers from 36 countries participated in the research, whose findings were published in the medical journal Stroke, with the contribution of 89 authors from all over the world, including countries such as Lebanon and Iran.

The researchers considered data from patients who were identified as virus carriers after being hospitalized as a consequence of a stroke or other serious brain events.

Some 71 medical centers in 17 countries had at least one patient whose clinical situation met the criteria for the study, for a total of 432 subjects.

“Surprisingly, many patients that we identified as having both corona and a stroke did not present the typical clinical symptoms of coronavirus,” Hebrew U. Prof. Ronen Leker said. “Some 40% of them didn’t have any fever, shortness of breath or abdominal pain, diarrhea and so on. But since all patients who were admitted in the hospital were tested, we were able to identify them as virus carriers.”

The data also showed that coronavirus patients under 55 were more likely to suffer from strokes related to large vessel occlusion – which tend to lead to poorer outcomes – as opposed to small vessel occlusion, while in the non-corona-affected population, the opposite is true.

Asked whether the results of the study suggest that the strokes might have been caused or influenced by the virus, Leker said yes.

“Many patients, especially the younger ones, did not present any traditional risk factor for strokes, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart problems and so on,” he said. “Basically, individuals younger than 55 had no risk factors other than COVID.”

The professor highlighted that there are many possible connections between the virus and brain events.

“The brain is one of the organs that the coronavirus targets, as well as blood vessels in the brain. We believe that the disease might lead to local thrombosis,” Leker suggested. “In addition, COVID affects the heart; it can cause an irregular heart rhythm, which can clot the organ, migrate to the brain and produce a stroke.”

Leker emphasized that these phenomena and the study’s findings have nothing to do with the coronavirus vaccines.

“If anything, the vaccine can reduce the risks, and this study was conducted way before the vaccine was available,” he pointed out.

While the study showed that strokes represent a possible complication of COVID, the professor explained that the occurrence remains quite rare.

For the future, Leker expressed hope that further research can shed more light on the connection between coronavirus and strokes, which can ensure better treatment for patients.

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