According to the CDC, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of serious disability for adults, with approximately 795,000 people in the United States suffering from one every year. However, for the most part, young people aren’t at serious risk of suffering from the health emergency caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain. Just one in every seven people who have a stroke are under the age of 49, and many of them due to preexisting conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Yet according to new research, young and otherwise healthy individuals are suffering from strokes—and it is all because they contracted COVID-19.
They Showed No Symptoms
A new study courtesy of surgeons at Thomas Jefferson University and NY Langone Medical Center published in the medical journal Neurosurgery, claims that many young stroke sufferers—without any symptoms of the highly infectious and potentially deadly virus— tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, the types of strokes they suffered were very unique.
“We were seeing patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s with massive strokes, the kind that we typically see in patients in their 70s and 80s,” Pascal Jabbour, MD, Chief of the Division of Neurovascular Surgery and Endovascular Surgery in the Vickie & Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience-Jefferson Health and senior author of the study, explained in a release.
Their findings are based on observations from 14 patients who had suffered strokes, eight male, six female—half of who didn’t know they had the virus—and are still preliminary. However, Dr. Jabbour describes them as “worrying.”
“Young people, who may not know they have the coronavirus, are developing clots that cause major stroke.”
They Delayed Seeking Care
Researchers highlight a few of the most prolific findings in their paper, many of which are very concerning.
First, even though patients showed signs of stroke, they delayed seeking medical care because they were afraid of catching coronavirus at the hospital. “There’s a small window of time in which strokes are treatable, so delays can be life-threatening,” they point out.
Second, almost 43 percent of the COVID-19 stroke patients died. This is startlingly high compared to the typical mortality rate from stroke, which is just 5 to ten percent.
Next, over 75 percent of all strokes in the country occur in those over the age of 65. But, according to researchers 42 percent of stroke coronavirus positive patients studied were under the age of 50. Additionally, according to this sample of patients, the incidence of coronavirus in the stroke population was 31.5 percent.
Finally, the location of where the blood clots occurred in stroke coronavirus patients was odd. “Patients observed had stroke in large vessels, in both hemispheres of the brain, and in both arteries and veins of the brain—all of these observations are unusual in stroke patients,” researchers write.
Why Doctors Are Warning You
Researchers offer a few explanations as to how COVID-19, primarily a disease of the lungs, is causing stroke-inducing blood clots.
The first is that the virus enters human cells via a very specific access point — a protein on human cells called ACE2, where it latches onto the protein, using it as a gateway into the cell, where the virus can replicate. The researchers suspect that the virus may be interfering with this receptor’s normal function of controlling blood flow in the brain, and also using it as an entry point to the cell.
The second possibility has to do with inflammation of the blood vessels causing vasculitis with injury to the cells lining the lumen of the vessel, called endothelium and causing micro thrombosis in small vessels.
“Our observations, though preliminary, can serve as a warning for medical personnel on the front lines, and for all of those at home,” says Dr. Jabbour.
“Stroke is occurring in people who don’t know they have COVID-19, as well as those who feel sick from their infections. We need to be vigilant and respond quickly to signs of stroke.”
As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.
in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer
your most urgent questions).
Here are the precautions you
should be taking at the grocery store, the
foods you should have
on hand, the
meal delivery services and
restaurant chains offering takeout
you need to know about, and ways you can help
support those in need. We will
continue to update these as new information develops.
Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage,
and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.