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Strokes Associated with COVID-19 Can Be Deadly

Acute ischemic strokes (AIS) associated with the COVID-19 virus are more severe, lead to worse functional outcomes and are associated with higher mortality, according to new international research published in Stroke, a journal of the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association.

In “Characteristics and Outcomes in Patients with COVID-19 and Acute Ischemic Stroke: The Global COVID-19 Stroke Registry,” researchers analyzed data on patients with COVID-19 and AIS treated at 28 health care centers in 16 countries this year and compared them to patients without COVID-19 from the Acute Stroke Registry and Analysis of Lausanne (ASTRAL) Registry, from 2003 to 2019.  Researchers sought to determine the clinical characteristics and outcomes of patients with COVID-19 and AIS.

Between January 27, 2020 to May 19, 2020, there were 174 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and AIS.  Each COVID-19 patient with AIS was matched and compared to a non-COVID-19 AIS patient based on a set of pre-specified factors including age, gender and stroke risk factors (hypertension, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, heart failure, cancer, previous stroke, smoking, obesity, and and high levels of “bad” cholesterol. The final analysis included 330 patients total.

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In both patient groups, stroke severity was estimated with the National Institute of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS), and stroke outcome was assessed by the modified Rankin score (mRS). When AIS patients with COVID-19 were compared to non-COVID-19 patients: COVID-19 patients had more severe strokes; COVID-19 patients had higher risk for severe disability following stroke; and COVID-19 patients were more likely to die of AIS.

The researchers noted there are several potential explanations for the relationship between COVID-19-associated strokes and increased stroke severity.

“The increased stroke severity at admission in COVID-19-associated stroke patients compared to the non-COVID-19 cohort may explain the worse outcomes,” the authors wrote in the article. “The broad, multi-system complications of COVID-19, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, cardiac arrhythmias, acute cardiac injury, shock, pulmonary embolism, cytokine release syndrome and secondary infection, probably contribute further to the worse outcomes including higher mortality in these patients.”

The writers said that the comparison results highlight “the urgent need for studies aiming to uncover the underlying mechanisms and is relevant for prehospital stroke awareness and in-hospital acute stroke pathways during the current and future pandemics.”

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