By now, the symptoms of COVID-19 are so familiar that most of us have memorized them. A stuffy or runny nose, cough, and loss of taste or smell are all classic symptoms, and a headache, loss of appetite, nausea, and night sweats are among the new ones added to the list for Omicron. But if you’re over 65 and have recently contracted COVID-19, you should also watch out for signs of a stroke.
The news comes from preliminary research which will be presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2022. Though the study has not yet been published in a scientific journal, the information is important enough to be made public.
Setting Up the Study
As noted in a press release, the study authors investigated the link between COVID-19 and ischemic stroke, or a stroke caused by a blocked blood vessel. Ischemic strokes, which account for about 87 percent of all strokes, often occur because fatty deposits build up inside a vessel.
To find out whether COVID-19 raises a person’s stroke risk, the researchers examined the health records of 37,379 Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older. About 57 percent of the adults were women, and more than 75 percent of all participants were non-Hispanic white. Over 10 percent identified as non-Hispanic Black, and less than 10 percent identified as Hispanic.
All of the adults in the study had been hospitalized for stroke between January 1, 2019, and February 28, 2021. In addition, they all received a COVID diagnosis between April 1, 2020, and February 28, 2021. The patients that suffered from a stroke at least seven days before or 28 days after a COVID diagnosis served as the control group.
COVID-19 may increase the risk of stroke.
Using this data, the researchers compared the risk of stroke during a COVID infection to the risk without an infection. They found that adults were at the greatest risk during the first three days following a COVID-19 diagnosis. In fact, their stroke risk was 10 times higher than that of the control group.
In the four to seven days post-diagnosis, the risk of stroke declined. However, it was still 60 percent higher than the control group. In the eight to 14 days post-diagnosis, the risk was 44 percent higher. And between 15 and 28 days post-diagnosis, it was nine percent higher.
Additionally, adults aged 65 to 74 were more likely to suffer from a stroke after a COVID-19 diagnosis than adults 85 and older. The study authors noted that sex, race, and ethnicity did not seem to affect stroke risk.
Keep in mind that these findings should be taken with a few grains of salt. The press release does not explain whether COVID-19 vaccines influenced the data. Vaccinated adults are more likely to have mild symptoms that won’t put as much stress on their bodies. It’s possible that participants aged 85 and older were more likely to be vaccinated, which in turn may have lowered their risk of stroke (as compared to participants between 65 and 74 years old).
In addition, the study authors noted that the dates of COVID-19 diagnoses depended on testing availability, which was limited early in the pandemic. Lastly, the data is based only on adults in the Medicare system. So, the results might change if the researchers were to examine the health records of adults who don’t receive Medicare.
What are the signs of a stroke?
While more research is needed to confirm whether COVID-19 raises stroke risk, it never hurts to look out for the signs of a stroke, especially if you have recently contracted the virus. The American Stroke Association recommends that you follow the F.A.S.T. acronyms to spot a stroke and take action:
- F: Face drooping. Is one side of the face droopy or numb?
- A: Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb?
- S: Speech difficulty. Is the person slurring their speech?
- T: Time to call 911 if all the above are true.
Other symptoms of a stroke include:
- Trouble seeing
- Trouble walking
- Severe headache
In addition, women may experience symptoms that don’t often show up in men. These symptoms include nausea or vomiting, seizures, hiccups, trouble breathing, pain, fainting or loss of consciousness, and general weakness.
Remember: It never hurts to be a little extra vigilant of your health when you are sick! And if you are looking for ways to reduce your risk of stroke, learn more about the benefits of healthy fats and walking for 30 minutes daily.