Can COVID-19 Cause a Stroke?

May 20, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Florian Thomas, M.D., Ph.D. contributes to topics such as Neuroscience.

Thomas Steineke, M.D. contributes to topics such as Neurosciences.

By: Katie Woehnker

The most common symptoms of COVID-19, like cough, fever and shortness of breath, have been apparent from the start of the crisis, however researchers and physicians are trying to understand the long-term effects of the virus, like if COVID-19 can lead to stroke and other neurological deficits.

Florian P. Thomas, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Neurology and the Neuroscience Institute at Hackensack University Medical Center and at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, and Thomas Steineke, M.D., Ph.D, Chief of Neurosurgery and Chair of the Neuroscience Institute at JFK Medical Center, share some insight about what experts have seen so far, what’s being done to better understand this disease, and tips for safety.

Trend in COVID-19 positive patients suffering stroke

A stroke occurs when blood can’t flow freely to the brain – this prevents oxygen and nutrients from reaching the brain, and damages brain cells. Blood flow may be prevented by a blood clot, or a blood vessel rupturing inside the brain.

While there’s not enough hard evidence to confirm that COVID-19 is causing strokes, experts across the world have noticed a trend. Young, relatively healthy patients who are not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 are suffering strokes and testing positive for the disease.

“We know that COVID-19 affects the heart. It can damage the heart muscle and lead to congestive heart failure, which can lead to irregular heartbeats — a common cause of strokes,” Dr. Thomas says.

Dr. Thomas also mentions that viruses, like influenza or the new coronavirus, can create inflammation that can cause the blood to clot more quickly, increasing the risk of stroke.

There are other neurological symptoms associated with COVID-19

“We need to get the message out that COVID-19 really is a systemic disease that affects many of the organs of the body, including the brain,” shares Dr. Steineke.

A study in China found that about 36% of COVID-positive patients had neurological symptoms including:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Taste, smell or vision impairment
  • Nerve pain

Follow safety precautions, and don’t forget to stay hydrated

Along with following the CDC’s guidelines for COVID-19 prevention, be sure to stay well hydrated. Dehydration can cause the blood to thicken, creating narrowed or blocked blood vessels, making it more difficult for blood to travel to the brain.

“People with the disease may not feel well and don’t want to eat and drink. But it’s really important that they drink enough fluids,” Dr. Steineke urges.

Active research is underway to document COVID-19’s neurological impact

Drs. Thomas and Steineke are leading a research study to better understand the neurological impact of COVID-19.

“We are cataloging and documenting the frequency of neurological complaints from patients being treated at our hospitals,” Dr. Steineke says. “While previous research studies have retroactively reviewed patient charts and symptoms, this study will examine patients while they are still in our care.”

“This is important,” Dr. Thomas adds. “Among the serious medical issues that these patients all have, we might be missing neurological symptoms and signs if they’re not the patient’s most obvious symptom or ailment.”

If you are experiencing stroke or heart attack symptoms, please take immediate action by calling 911.

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.