Watch for Stroke Symptoms If You’ve Had COVID-19
Our primary care doctors in Delray Beach don’t want anyone to panic about the latest findings on the aftereffects of COVID-19. But we do want to let you know that several recent studies, including one published last month, have found an increased risk of stroke among those who have had the disease, even when their symptoms were mild.
So we want you to be aware of the possibility, and to encourage you to know the most common symptoms of a stroke.
According to the newest study, published last month in the British medical journal Heart:
- Patients with mild COVID-19 (meaning they weren’t hospitalized) were 2.7 times more likely to develop blood clots than those who had never been infected. They were also 10 times more likely to die from any cause.
- Those who required hospitalization were 27 times more likely to develop blood clots, 21 times more likely to suffer heart failure, and 17 times more likely to have a stroke.
- Those who had high blood pressure or were smokers were at even greater risk.
The researchers, affiliated with Queen Mary University of London, followed 18,000 people between the ages of 40 and 69 who developed COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic (before vaccines were widely available) and compared them with nearly 34,000 people who never caught the coronavirus.
They were tracked until they developed some form of cardiovascular disease or died, or until the study ended in March 2021.
Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, scientists have noticed the increased risk of cardiovascular damage resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection. And it’s not just seniors who are affected. Study after study has found this type of damage in young adults, as well.
A 2021 study published in the journal JAMA found that the risk of stroke following COVID-19 doubled when compared with others of the same sex and age who hadn’t had the disease.
- Another study that same year published in the journal Lancet found that within a week of COVID-19 infection, subjects’ risk of stroke was three to six times higher than that of a control group.
- One recent study published in the journal Neurosurgery caused even more concern when researchers’ findings showed that strokes caused by COVID-19 infection were likely to be more severe and more difficult to treat with surgery aimed at opening blocked blood vessels.
Because many of these and other studies were conducted before the vaccines became widely available, researchers don’t yet know whether these elevated risks might be lower in those who have been vaccinated.
Cause Still Murky
Adding to the mystery, not everyone who gets COVID-19 will be at risk for this type of damage, just as not everyone experiences the lingering symptoms known as long COVID.
One leading theory is the well-known aftereffect of widespread inflammation throughout the body.
“Something about SARS-CoV-2 increases propensity to damaging the lining of the blood vessels and increases the probability of blood clotting,” Ziyad Al-Aly, a physician at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, told Bloomberg Opinion recently.
“What makes this such a dangerous disease is mainly that it attacks these vessels,” Pascal Jabbour, a neurosurgeon at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia and lead author of the Neurosurgery paper, told Bloomberg. He explained that COVID-19 can lead to inflammation in blood vessels throughout the body.
The author of that opinion piece, Faye Flam, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist who covers science, concluded that even though most people recover from their bout with the coronavirus without complications, others have been devastated by it.
“The take-home message is that even if you feel fine, past COVID infection is a cardiovascular risk factor, a little like elevated cholesterol,” she wrote.
“It’s not a reason to despair, but it’s a very good reason to be vigilant,” she added.
What to Watch For
With that in mind, we again don’t want survivors of the disease to panic, just to know what symptoms warrant a call to 911.
So no matter your age, health condition, or how severe your COVID-19 infection was, here are the symptoms you should watch out for, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
- sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech
- sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination
- sudden severe headache with no known cause
The stroke treatments that work best are available only if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within three hours of the onset of the first symptoms, the CDC says. So if you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T and do the following test:
F—Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A—Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S—Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
T—Time. If you see any of these signs, call 911 right away.
And if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call 911 for an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.