Links between stroke and coronavirus (Covid-19) have hit the headlines over the last year. But we still don't know if the virus can cause stroke, in whom, and how. We urgently need more information to guide new treatments to stop people with Covid-19 from having a stroke and to improve outcomes if they do.
We're funding stroke doctors and researchers Dr Richard Perry from University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Dr William Whiteley from the University of Edinburgh, to answer these important questions. We spoke to them about their work:
What do we know about stroke and Covid-19?
Dr Perry: Stroke doctors have seen a small number of people that are extremely ill from Covid-19 also having a stroke. It looks as if the virus can cause unusual blood clotting, which can cause a stroke. But these studies are small and don't rule out that stroke may have happened due to chance.
Dr Whiteley: That's right. These reports have been from small groups of people with the virus, so it doesn't give us a good picture of its effects on stroke in most people.
Why is your research important?
Dr Perry: Our teams' research will find out if Covid-19 influences strokes, perhaps making them more severe or causing greater long-term disability.
Right now, doctors, including myself, have virtually no information on the best treatment for people with stroke and Covid-19. This research can give vital evidence about treatments that can improve outcomes after a stroke and stop a second stroke from happening.
Dr Whiteley: Likewise, our team will look at if Covid-19 increases the risk of stroke, and by how much, by assessing health records from almost every adult in the UK. That's around 65 million people!
With this information, we can quickly and accurately find out when people with Covid-19 are at the greatest risk of having a stroke and who may need treatments to reduce this risk.
We'll also be comparing the risk of stroke due to Covid-19 with other stroke risk factors, such as problems with the heart and blood vessels, like high blood pressure. This can help researchers and healthcare professionals to understand if treatments to reduce stroke risk need to be prioritised in Covid-19 patients.
What's your hope for this research?
Dr Perry: We've come a long way since the start of the pandemic. In the early days, I found it uncomfortable making decisions about patient care with no evidence to guide us. I hope this research can improve how we treat stroke in people with Covid-19.
I'm incredibly proud of the stroke doctors and researchers who contributed to our early studies of stroke and Covid-19 before we had any resources. This much-needed funding from the Stroke Association means we can continue this urgent work.
Dr Whiteley: This research really is a national effort with experts from all the UK nations working to find answers about links between Covid-19 and stroke.
The NHS collects health information from people across the UK, which is being assessed by the British Heart Foundation Data Science Centre (led by Health Dara Research UK). The Stroke Association's funding is enabling us to use this resource, so we can improve care for people with Covid-19 and stroke, and improve research into stroke as a whole.
Read about Dr Whitely and Dr Perry's work and the research we fund around the UK. And find out how you can support us.
Stroke News magazine
This article is featured in the spring 2021 edition of our magazine, Stroke News. Subscribe to our future editions available in print, on audio CD, or via email.