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:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face or limbs — especially when isolated to one side of the body
- Sudden confusion or difficulty speaking and understanding speech
- Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden dizziness, loss of balance, difficulty walking or lack of coordination
- 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.