Research suggests that the risk of a stroke is highest within 3 days of a COVID-19 diagnosis but can remain high for months. It’s thought that the inflammatory response to the virus that causes COVID-19 may play a role in increasing risk.
Every 40 seconds, a person in the United States has a stroke, according to the
COVID-19 has been associated with an increased risk of stroke. In fact, your risk of stroke after having COVID-19 can remain elevated for months after you recover from your infection.
This article will take a closer look at what’s known about the link between COVID-19 and stroke risk.
COVID-19 is associated with a higher risk of stroke. Many of these strokes are ischemic strokes, although hemorrhagic strokes — caused by a ruptured blood vessel in the brain — have
- The virus that causes COVID-19 infects the cells that line the inside of the blood vessels, called endothelial cells.
- Infected cells release several pro-inflammatory factors that recruit other immune cells to the area.
- These immune cells also make inflammatory factors, which can eventually damage the endothelial cells.
- Damage to the endothelial cells can lead to the activation of platelets and other factors involved in clotting. This increases the risk of a blood clot that could travel to the brain and cause a stroke.
So far, the research hasn’t determined why a blood clot develops in one location instead of another, and it may be related to underlying preexisting conditions. Also, the risk of blood clots seems to vary among COVID-19 strains.
The risk of stroke is highest right after COVID-19 diagnosis
Some research has found that the risk of stroke is highest in the days immediately after you become ill with COVID-19. A
The study found that the risk of stroke was 10 times higher in the first 3 days after a COVID-19 diagnosis. This association was strongest in people ages 65 to 74 and in people who had no prior history of stroke.
The risk of stroke remains elevated months after you recover
An elevated stroke risk isn’t only present during the early stages of COVID-19. It may persist for months.
The researchers found that people who had COVID-19 had a 53% higher risk of having a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA) in the next 12 months.
While those who were hospitalized with COVID-19 or cared for in an intensive care unit (ICU) had a higher risk of stroke, individuals who weren’t hospitalized also had a slightly elevated risk of stroke or TIA.
Asymptomatic people may also have an increased risk of stroke
The outcome of COVID-19-associated strokes can be poor
A 2022 study included 216 people with COVID-19 at 30 stroke centers in the United States and Canada. It found that 51.3% of stroke outcomes were poor and the mortality rate was 39.1%.
The following factors were associated with poorer stroke outcomes:
- age older than 60
- blockage of a large artery
- higher score on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Stroke Scale
- higher neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio, a marker of inflammation and immunity
Stroke with COVID-19 is still uncommon
While people with COVID-19 are at a higher risk of stroke, it’s still an uncommon occurrence. A
People who have risk factors for stroke are most likely to be affected. The research also found that stroke in people with COVID-19 often occurred in the presence of other risk factors that are already known to boost stroke risk. These risk factors include:
How to recognize the symptoms of a stroke
A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate care. Call 911 or local emergency services or go to the emergency room if you or someone else around you suddenly experiences:
Whether or not you’ve had COVID-19, there are several factors that are known to increase your risk of stroke, including:
While not all strokes can be prevented, certain lifestyle choices can go a long way in lowering your risk of stroke. This includes:
- focusing on a balanced, heart-healthy diet
- avoiding foods that are high in:
- getting regular physical activity
- quitting smoking, if you smoke
- managing preexisting health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes
- taking steps to manage your weight, if recommended by a doctor
- limiting alcohol consumption, or avoiding it altogether
- finding ways to lower your stress levels
- getting enough sleep each night
- seeing a doctor if you have symptoms of infection, especially if you have other stroke risk factors
- seeing a doctor for routine checkups
The added benefit of these lifestyle choices is that they not only reduce your risk of stroke but can also boost your overall health.
COVID-19 can increase the risk of stroke, possibly through the inflammatory response to infection. Stroke risk can remain elevated for months after your recovery from COVID-19.
Several factors are known to increase your risk of stroke, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and smoking. Making lifestyle changes may help lower your risk of a stroke.
A stroke is a medical emergency. If you or someone around you has symptoms of a stroke, call 911 or local emergency services immediately or get to the nearest emergency room.