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Stroke emerging as a symptom of COVID-19 in new research

A new research study from Western University and Lawson Health has linked stroke as a side effect of the novel coronavirus.
A new research study from Western University and Lawson Health has linked stroke as a side effect of the novel coronavirus. The Associated Press

A new research study from Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute linked strokes in novel coronavirus patients as a side effect of the disease caused by the virus.

Researchers at Western and Lawson Health, led by Dr. Luciano Sposato, have published a new study looking at the relationship between COVID-19 and stroke in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

In the study, researchers found that two in every 100 patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 will suffer a stroke, and 35 per cent will die as a result of both conditions.

“As stroke neurologists, we need a new mindset to be able to promptly diagnose and treat patients with COVID-19 related strokes,” said Dr. Sebastian Fridman, assistant professor, clinical neurological sciences, at Western’s Schulich Medicine and Dentistry and a research fellow at Lawson.

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Researchers first started looking at the link between strokes in COVID-19 patients after noticing the development of large blood clots that can cause blockages in the arteries that lead to the brain, causing a stroke in patients with the disease.

“One of the most eye-opening findings of this study is that for patients under 50 years old, many were totally asymptomatic when they had a stroke related to COVID-19,” said Dr. Sposato, who is the Kathleen and Dr. Henry Barnett Chair in Stroke Research at Western and Scientist at Lawson.

The researchers reported that in patients under 50 years old, nearly 50 per cent had no other visible symptoms of the virus at the time of stroke onset.

Sposato said that for patients under 50 who were asymptomatic, the stroke was their first symptom of the disease.

“The take-home message here for health care providers is that if you are seeing a patient with a stroke, particularly in those under 50 years old with large clots, you need to think of COVID-19 as a potential cause even in the absence of respiratory symptoms,” Sposato said.

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The team examined 160 cases in total, looking at both clinical characteristics and in-hospital mortality of published cases of COVID-19 and stroke and combined that data with 35 unpublished cases from Canada, the U.S. and Iran.

“COVID-19 has changed the stroke landscape worldwide,” Fridman said.