Stroke could be first symptom of COVID-19 in patients under 50

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For nearly half of COVID-19 patients under 50, the first sign of the virus could be a stroke, according to a new London-based study.

Researchers at Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute working to understand the connection between strokes and the novel coronavirus have found approximately two per cent of patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 will suffer a stroke. As a result of both conditions, 35 per cent of patients will die.

The research team examined data on 160 stroke patients with COVID-19 and determined one of the most concerning symptoms of the virus is the development of large blood clots that can cause blockages in the arteries that lead to the brain causing a stroke.

For patients under the age of 50, nearly 50 per cent had no other visible symptoms of the virus at the time of the stroke.

“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,” Dr. Luciano Sposato, lead researcher and stroke research chair at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, said in a statement. “This means that for these patients, the stroke was their first symptom of the disease.”

She stated that understanding the link between COVID-19 and stroke is important for developing an effective treatment.

“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,” said Sposato.

Researchers also found older age, other chronic conditions, and the severity of COVID-19 respiratory symptoms are associated with an “extremely elevated” risk of death.

The study was published Tuesday in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.