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The COVID – Stroke Relationship:  Younger patients developing stroke

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By: Dr Vipul Gupta

As seen globally, it is known that the COVID infection affects the lungs and the respiratory tract leading to breathing problems, but a lesser known fact is that, the infection also involves the brain and the nervous system in many of the patients.

Recent studies are evident enough to reveal that around 30/40% of the patients may develop some brain symptoms, more so with either severe COVID symptoms or pre-existing/underlying problems. A majority of the COVID positive patients with brain problems have been found to have stroke, while some have conscious problems. Some patients also had complaints of muscle injury, which is regarded as a part of nervous system.

In fact, loss of sense of smell among the COVID patient has also been reported which is also a feature or involvement of the nerves that detect our sense of smell.

COVID positive and Stroke – Why?

Many studies have been conducted in order to find out the root cause of the problem. One of the reason is the increased level of certain chemicals (protein fragments in the body called as D-Dimer) that is responsible for increasing the clotting tendency of the blood.

COVID stroke has different symptoms

Globally, doctors have reported cases of stroke in COVID positive patients including from countries like England, US and China. However, the stroke in these patients are very different from what is seen in other patients without COVID infection.  Strokes are happening in a younger age group, in the age bracket of 50 to 55 years, while normally it occurs in much older age (above 65 to 70 years).

Apart from COVID infection, the patients having stroke are without any underlying problems.  Usually, stroke is common in the geriatric population who have pre-existing co-morbidities like hypertension, diabetes or cholesterol, or chain smokers. But COVID is affecting the younger population with no such risk factors and still they are getting a stroke attack.

The symptoms of stroke may be first symptoms in some, before even being diagnosed with COVID, and in some cases the patients may develop stroke within 7-10 days of COVID diagnosis.

Missing the golden period of diagnosis

Since the inception of lockdown, there has been a decline in the number of emergency cases. The patients of stroke reaching the hospital within the golden period has highly reduced in numbers. This phenomenon has been seen world over.

The stroke in many elderly living alone, due to social distancing and isolation, may have gone unnoticed. Furthermore, nowadays, even in a family if someone develops a stroke, the family is afraid to take the patient to the hospital as they are worried about themselves or the patient catching COVID infection. Sadly, if the patient does not reach for medical help in the golden period of first 6 to 8 hours of stroke, the treatment does not do not have very good outcomes.

Timely treatment is the solution

Doctors are also facing challenges in treating these patients in emergency. Some of them may have COVID, however doctors can’t wait for the virus diagnosis before undertaking emergency treatment.

The writer is Director, Neurointervention, Agrim institute for neuro sciences, Artemis Hospital.

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