How Common Is Stroke in People Critically Ill with COVID-19?

American Academy of Neurology (AAN)

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE UNTIL 4 P.M. ET, THURSDAY, APRIL 15, 2021

Newswise — MINNEAPOLIS – A large, year-long study has found that among people with COVID-19 who were hospitalized in an intensive care unit (ICU), 2% experienced a stroke after they were admitted to the ICU. The preliminary study released today, April 15, 2021, will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 73rd Annual Meeting being held virtually April 17 to 22, 2021. The study also found that hemorrhagic stroke, a bleeding stroke, was associated with a higher risk of death among people in the ICU, but ischemic stroke, a stroke caused by a blood clot blocking an artery, was not.

“Stroke has been a known serious complication of COVID-19 with some studies reporting a higher-than-expected occurrence, especially in young people,” said study author Jonathon Fanning, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “However, among the sickest of patients, those admitted to an ICU, our research found that stroke was not a common complication and that a stroke from a blood clot did not increase the risk of death.”

Researchers used an international database of COVID-19 patients in 52 countries admitted to an ICU between January 1 and December 21, 2020. They identified 2,699 people who were admitted to an ICU for management of severe COVID-19 infection. Of those, 59 had a stroke.   The people had an average age of 53. 

Researchers evaluated the patient data at 370 hospital ICUs and found 59 people, or 2.2%, experienced a stroke during their stay in the ICU. Of those, 19 people, or 32%, had a stroke from a clot, 27 people, or 46%, had a bleeding stroke, and 13 people, or 22%, had an unspecified stroke. 

Researchers determined that people who had a bleeding stroke had up to five times greater risk of death than people without stroke. However, people who had a stroke from a clot had no increased risk of death. 

Of the people with bleeding stroke, 72% died, but of those, only 15% died of stroke. Instead, multiorgan failure was the leading cause of death.

“For people with COVID-19 in intensive care, our large study found that stroke was not common, and it was infrequently the cause of death,” said Fanning. “Still, COVID-19 is a new disease and mutations have resulted in new variants, so it’s important to continue to study stroke in people with the disease. More importantly, while the proportion of those with a stroke may not be as high as we initially thought, the severity of the pandemic means the overall absolute number of patients around the world who will suffer a stroke and the ongoing implications of that for years to come, could create a major public health crisis.”

A limitation of the study is the variability in how stroke was diagnosed and recorded. 

The study was funded by the University of Queensland, the Prince Charles Hospital Foundation and Wesley Medical Research, all in Brisbane, Australia.

Learn more about COVID-19 at BrainandLife.org, home of the American Academy of Neurology’s free patient and caregiver magazine focused on the intersection of neurologic disease and brain health. Follow Brain & Life® on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

When posting to social media channels about this research, we encourage you to use the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting hashtag #AANAM.

The American Academy of Neurology is the world’s largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with over 36,000 members. The AAN is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit AAN.com or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube

Dr. Abdel-Mannan will present his findings at 3 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 18, during the 2021 AAN Annual Meeting Emerging Science Session.

Please contact AAN Media and Public Relations at [email protected] to schedule an advance interview with the author.

Emerging Science abstracts are embargoed until 12:01 a.m., ET, Friday, April 16, 2021, unless otherwise noted by the AAN’s Media and Public Relations Department. 

To view non-Emerging Science abstracts to be presented at the 2021 AAN Annual Meeting, visit the AAN Annual Meeting Abstracts & Awards page.




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