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Updated: Monday, 17 May 2021

Since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in early 2020 there have been reports of COVID-19 patients also having a stroke. The Stroke Association, health and social care professionals, and researchers in the UK continue to study COVID-19 and stroke, and deliver treatment and care for people that have a stroke.

Research has started to reveal which COVID-19 patients are more likely to have a stroke. This is important as it can guide how these patients are treated. It includes COVID-19 patients that:

  • Have health conditions affecting their heart and blood vessels such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

  • Have severe symptoms of COVID-19. COVID-19 may cause stroke around 9 days after someone starts experiencing symptoms, and in people that are still experiencing symptoms at this time.

  • Are of Asian ethnicity.

These research studies have also found that compared to stroke patients without the virus, coronavirus patients that had stroke:

  • Were on average six years younger. But overall, it was older coronavirus patients that were more likely to have a stroke than younger people with COVID-19. 

  • Have more severe effects of stroke.

It is already known that viruses can increase the risk of stroke. Research has also shown that people with COVID-19 are more likely to have a stroke than people with influenza and other respiratory tract infections. This may be helpful to prioritise research and treatments. 

Right now, we don’t know:

  • How much COVID-19 may increase the risk of stroke and in which groups of patients.

  • How COVID-19 can increase the chance of someone having a stroke. This is important to find the best way to treat patients with coronavirus that may have a high risk of stroke. 

  • The impacts of COVID-19 on stroke recovery or recurrence in the longer term.

Researchers have suggested a few ways that COVID-19 could increase the risk of stroke in some people. It is likely that the virus can cause blood clotting. There are treatments that can stop the blood from clotting and break up blood clots to stop damage to the brain caused by stroke. But more research is urgently needed to understand if these treatments could help Covid-19 patients at risk of stroke, and who would benefit from them.

Early in 2021, the Stroke Association announced funding for projects to build a better picture of who is at risk of stroke and COVID-19 and why. This can guide new treatment to reduce the risk of stroke in people who have COVID-19.

How much could COVID-19 increase the chance of stroke? Dr William Whiteley, University of Edinburgh

Using health records to guide future stroke treatment for coronavirus patients. Dr Richard Perry, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Dr Rubina Ahmed, Stroke Association Research Director, said: “There is growing evidence that people with more severe COVID-19 infection are at an increased risk of stroke compared to those with a milder case. In addition, people that have a stroke and COVID-19 are likely to be younger than expected. This could add up to a lot more people living with the devastating effects of stroke if COVID-19 patients do not receive the right treatment to manage stroke risk.

This highlights the importance of research to understand why COVID-19 can increase the risk of stroke, particularly stroke caused by a blood clot, which is the most common type. I’m pleased that our charity can fund urgent research in this rapidly developing area.

Tragically, during the first lockdowns in March, we saw a drop in the number of people going to the hospital with a stroke in the UK. But stroke continues to strike.

It’s important to remain aware of the common signs of stroke that include changes in the face, arm movement, and speech, and act fast by calling 999. This can get someone the emergency care they need to reduce damage to the brain caused by stroke and give them the best chance of rebuilding their life after stroke.”