• Even with mild COVID-19 symptoms, many people as young as 30 are experiencing strokes.
  • The novel coronavirus can cause small blood clots which cause an obstruction of blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke.

From Loma Linda University Health  |  6 September 2020 |

The novel coronavirus usually attacks the lungs, causing symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing, but doctors are now starting to worry about another organ — the brain. Even with mild symptoms, many people as young as 30 with COVID-19 are experiencing strokes.

Miguel Lopez-Gonzalez, MD, a neurosurgeon at Loma Linda University Health, explains why this might be the case. “As research has evolved, we’ve seen the novel coronavirus can cause microthrombi — or small blood clots — which can develop and travel through the body,” he says. “This can cause an obstruction of blood flow to the brain and cause ischemic stroke.”

Lopez-Gonzalez says although strokes are most common in people over the age of 65, they’re seeing a rise in patients of all ages who are affected by COVID-19. “COVID-19 causes inflammation in many parts of the body, which can increase the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries or a blood clot in the veins, causing a stroke,” he says.

According to Lopez-Gonzalez, this is not the first time an infectious respiratory disease has led to this phenomenon, noting a similar increased risk in influenza patients. “There is still a lot of research to be done when it comes to COVID-19 and stroke, but stroke symptoms should never be ignored.”

Lopez-Gonzalez urges people not to ignore signs that may be signaling a greater issue:

  1. Sudden numbness or weakness in the face or limbs — especially when isolated to one side of the body
  2. Sudden confusion or difficulty speaking and understanding speech
  3. Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes
  4. Sudden dizziness, loss of balance, difficulty walking or lack of coordination
  5. Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Lopez-Gonzalez says even if your symptoms don’t last longer than a few minutes, it is still possible you suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA). “People may be tempted to ignore a TIA once the symptoms fade, but it will not go away without medical intervention and can be the sign of a serious issue,” he says.

For more information on the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center, visit lomalindastroke.org.

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