Hospitalized COVID-19 patients have low risk of stroke

While initial reports suggested a significant risk of stroke in patients hospitalized with COVID-19, a new paper published in Stroke from Penn Medicine shows a low risk of stroke in patients hospitalized for COVID-19. Notably, the majority of afflicted patients had existing risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. These findings provide more clarity about the role COVID-19 plays in causing stroke in a diverse population of the United States.

Person in hospital bed with COVID-19 presses their hand against a glass window with a loved one on the other side.

“While there was initial concern for a high number of strokes related to COVID-19, that has not been born out. Importantly, while the risk for stroke in COVID-19 patients is low, it’s mostly tied to pre-existing conditions—so physicians who do see stroke in hospitalized COVID-19 patients must understand the virus is not the only factor, and it’s necessary to follow through with normal diagnostic testing,” says Brett Cucchiara, an associate professor of neurology in the Perelman School of Medicine, and senior author of the paper. “However, there are still many unknowns and we need to continue investigating the linkage between stroke and COVID-19, particularly considering the racial disparities surrounding the disease.”

To evaluate the risk and incidence of stroke in COVID-19 hospitalized patients, researchers analyzed data from 844 COVID-19 patients admitted to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, and Pennsylvania Hospital between March and May. The team also analyzed the data for cases of intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain).

Researchers found that 2.4% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 had an ischemic stroke—the most common type of stroke, typically caused by a blood clot in the brain. Importantly, the majority of these stroke patients had existing risk factors, such as high blood pressure (95%) and a history of diabetes (60%), and traditional stroke mechanisms, such as heart failure. Additionally, over one-third had a history of a previous stroke.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.