If you or someone close to you has experienced a stroke, you know that they can happen suddenly and with little warning. Understanding the risk factors is the best way to prevent strokes from ever happening. 85% of strokes are ischemic strokes, which are caused by a clog in an artery, leading to a lack of blood flow to the brain. Obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, smoking, drug abuse and many other risk factors are all linked to an increased likelihood. Now, recent studies have shown that COVID-19 may be linked to increased stroke risk as well.
How does COVID-19 increase risk of stroke?
Common symptoms of moderate to severe COVID-19 include inflammation, poor organ function and development of blood clots. All of these symptoms and others are common for severe COVID-19 cases and could increase your risk of venous and arterial thromboembolisms, a build-up of blood clots which can subsequently lead to heart attack and stroke.
“Not only does COVID-19 infection create inflammation throughout the body, but it has also been known to produce hypercoagulation of the blood (a condition that causes your blood to clot more easily than normal),” said Dr. El-Ghanem. “This combination is particularly dangerous in the production of strokes.
Who is at most at risk?
People who have multiple risk factors for stroke have greater cause for concern during COVID-19 infection. In fact, moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms alone can create enough risk for doctors to recommend blood thinners to hospitalized patients. In general, if you aren’t normally at risk for stroke and if your COVID-19 symptoms are minor, the risk of stroke in this situation could be low.
Is risk still high after COVID-19 recovery?
“We are still collecting information,” said Dr. El-Ghanem. “And we will be for years. It’s obvious that risk for stroke is higher during and immediately after recovery. But long-term effects related to stroke will take longer to verify.” What we do know is that rapid and early detection of stroke symptoms as well as understanding the subtle warning signs and symptoms of a stroke is vital. Remember to B.E. F.A.S.T.
- Balance: Sudden loss of balance or coordination.
- Eye: Sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes.
- Face: Is the face drooping or is it numb? When you smile, is it uneven or lop-sided?
- Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Raise both arms – does one drift down?
- Speech: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or difficult to understand when asked to repeat a simple sentence?
- Time to call 9-1-1: If any of these symptoms are present, even if they go away, it’s time to call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital immediately.
Don’t avoid treatment
Time is of the essence when it comes to treating and recovering from a stroke. For patients who are nervous or hesitant about going to the hospital during a pandemic or at any time, Dr. El-Ghanem offered some advice. “Strokes can be treated if caught quickly. Getting treatment at the hospital increases the doctors’ chances of minimizing or even reversing the long-term effects of your stroke.”
Reduce your risk by getting help. If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, keep a close eye on your symptoms. Reach out to a doctor if they worsen. If you have other risk factors for stroke, discuss them with your doctor and make a plan for recovery. To identify your risk factors for stroke and way to improve them, visit our Stroke Risk Profiler.
You can learn more about causes and symptoms of strokes and how to decrease your risk in these similar articles:
- What is a “Mini-Stroke”?
- Different Strokes for Different Folks, But All Are Dangerous
- Act F.A.S.T.: Recognizing Signs of Stroke