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For Some COVID-19 Patients, The First Symptom Is a Stroke Rather Than a Cough

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We may think that the first symptom of coronavirus patients is coughing or breathing difficulties, but a new research in Toronto, Ontario, says that in some patients, a stroke can be the first symptom that has higher chances of ending a life.

As time passes by, scientists are advancing and revealing more about how COVID-19 affects human bodies. Among the most severe and death-causing symptoms is stroke.

The scientific journal named “Neurology”, published a study in which researchers revealed that out of 160 patients who suffered a stroke due to coronavirus, 29 were younger than 50.

In 50% of these 29 patients, the stroke was the first COVID-19 symptom, and in 45% there were no high-risk factors.

So, one half of the COVID-19 positive patients who suffered a stroke had no early symptoms.

“They’re completely healthy people who develop COVID-19 and have strokes. That was quite unexpected,” reported Dr. L. Sposato, a Western University researcher, for CTV News.

This study indicates that patients and doctors should be aware of the severity of strokes during the coronavirus pandemic.

“When we see stroke patients, the first thing we need to remember is that they are at very high risk of having COVID-19,” explained Dr. Sposato. He says that even if patients don’t have stroke symptoms, they should be tested because patients who suffered a stroke and are COVID-19 positive are at a much higher risk of death than those who are negative.

The study reveals that 45% of patients who suffered stroke and are COVID-19 positive in intensive care die. On the other hand, 15-30% of those who had stroke and tested negative for COVID-19, manage to survive.

After considering other factors, researchers found out that the mortality rate was even higher.

According to the study, the group considered to be of highest-risk were patients who had serious COVID-19 symptoms and one or more serious comorbidity such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc. The mortality rate in this high-risk group was 59%.

When compared to other respiratory diseases, COVID-19 had a stronger connection to stroke than the rest of them.

The study revealed that patients with COVID-19 are ten times more probable to get a stroke than patients with influenza. And more than twenty times as likely as patients with SARS.

As explained by scientists, strokes due to COVID-19 differ from the rest types of strokes. They believe that in COVID-19 positive patients, the virus penetrates cells that coat the blood vessels which leads to inflammation and sometimes a formation of blood clots in the heart, legs, or lungs.

“There’s something interesting about other comorbidities that these patients have,” reported Sposato, explaining “For example, clots in the pulmonary arteries are 14 times more common in patients with stroke and COVID-19 than in patients with stroke and no signs of COVID-19, based on historical data from Canada.”

Blood clots are dangerous because they can go to the head and endanger the brain which results in a mini-stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack). More precisely, this is a blockage of an artery that does not allow blood supplies for the brain.

As the study revealed, the number of COVID-19 positive patients who had blood clots in the arteries that supply the brain with blood was much larger than patients without COVID-19. Calculated in percentages, it was 49% COVID-19 positive vs. 29% COVID-19 negative patients.

Anyway, there are chances of recovering after a stroke, but the patients may have to cope with long-term effects such as difficulty walking or speaking.

Dr. L. Catanese, physician lead for hyperacute stroke services at Hamilton Health Sciences, reported for CTV News: “Stroke is the leading cause of major disability in North America, and anything that can increase the likelihood of having strokes, particularly in a younger population.”

Even though blood thinners and regular stroke treatment help patients, early medical help is crucial.

Sudden confusion, numbness, vision loss, difficulty walking, and speaking are symptoms that indicate a stroke.

Dr. A. Pikula, a stroke neurologist at Toronto Western Hospital, gave a piece of advice in CTV News: “If you have any stroke symptoms, please call 911 and come to the hospital, because we have everything in place to provide safe and protected care during the COVID pandemic.” 

This study’s most important reveal is how much COVID-19 affects the human body and overall health, and sometimes it can lead to long-term consequences.

Dr. Sposato explained:  “We’re not done with this disease, and we’re starting to see problems not only in the lungs but also in the brain and heart.”

There is a national study led by Catanese and Pikula that will contribute to understanding the link between COVID-19 and strokes.

Pikula said that the research will “look into the stroke complications of COVID”. And, Catanese explained: “We want to eventually be able to understand this association and be able to understand, with a larger number of patients, what kind of patients have strokes, what kind of strokes, and what the ultimate causes of the stroke are, so […] we’re better positioned to treat these strokes and improve the outcome of these patients.”

Source: CTV News

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