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UB physicians detect previously unseen link between coronavirus and stroke

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Fri, Apr 24th 2020 02:50 pm

Jacobs School professor outlines alarming uptick of dangerous blood clots in younger, female patients

By the University at Buffalo

In the past two weeks, doctors in the U.S., including those in Buffalo, have noticed a new and potentially devastating link between stroke and COVID-19. And it is occurring in an unexpected population.

“We’re seeing an increased percentage of younger, typically female, stroke patients,” said Elad I. Levy, M.D., professor and chair of neurosurgery and radiology at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, co-director of the Gates Stroke Center, and clinician at UBMD Neurosurgery.

Levy said that, based on conversations he has had with medical colleagues in hospitals downstate, there could be an increase of up to 20% of stroke incidence during the apex of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is surprising, because the novel coronavirus has been seen as primarily a respiratory illness, like influenza. But it is becoming increasingly evident that COVID-19 affects the kidneys, heart, intestines, liver and brain, in addition to the lungs.

In a stroke, a clot that has formed in a blood vessel breaks off and travels through the circulatory system to the brain.

Levy said patients in the newly recognized stroke subgroup typically show up at the emergency department with stroke symptoms, and usually have not been tested for the virus. Emergency stroke treatment is initiated as tests are sent, and after the patients are treated results show up as positive several days later.

The reasons for the coincidence of stroke and COVID-19 are still unclear, Levy said.

“When you ask ‘Why?’ – that is the billion-dollar question,” he said.

One possible reason, he said, is because these patients have fevers and are dehydrated, which causes the blood to thicken. In addition, pre-existing conditions such as obesity, smoking and an increasing sedentary lifestyle during quarantine, are “factors that enhance every single risk factor for stroke,” he noted.

This new type of stroke patient requires new treatment protocols in the hospital, Levy said. They need to be kept in a dedicated room so as not to infect other patients in the stroke ward, for example. Medical staff need to have dedicated personal protective equipment and intubation equipment, as well.

Once they are stabilized, these patients are put through a battery of tests, Levy said.

He explained doctors in Buffalo are working collaboratively with doctors all over the country to learn more about the link between COVID-19 and strokes. In addition, he and his colleagues in Western New York are collecting information on stroke patients who test positive for COVID-19.

“There are many questions we need to ask,” Levy said. “This is ‘hot off the press.’ ”

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