Why COVID-19 Increases Stroke Risk In Young Adults

Here’s how COVID-19 may be increasing stroke risk in young adults.

As information about COVID-19 has unfolded since the first cases were seen in the U.S., doctors in hard-hit New York City have been noticing a troubling trend. Some young people who were mildly ill or had no noticeable coronavirus symptoms developed blood clots – and experienced strokes when those clots blocked blood vessels in the brain.

How COVID-19 May Increase Stroke Risk

The novel coronavirus causes inflammation throughout the body. When the walls of blood vessels become inflamed, they may react by clumping blood cells together, creating clots that slow or stop the normal flow of blood. COVID-19-related blood clots often affect the larger vessels of the body, including those in the brain.

If a blood vessel in the brain is blocked by a clot, brain cells soon begin to die which can cause severe damage to the affected part of the brain including vision loss, balance issues, difficulty speaking and even death.

Although strokes can occur at any age, younger people normally have a lower risk compared to people age 60 and older. That’s why neurosurgeons at Mount Sinai Health System in New York were surprised when they began seeing an increase in younger stroke patients. The doctors published a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine about five young stroke patients who were under 50 and had only mild or no symptoms but tested positive for COVID-19. Although more needs to be understood about the connection between COVID-19 and strokes, this is a concerning complication of the virus.

Why Prompt Emergency Treatment is Critical

If you are having a stroke, the sooner you receive treatment, the better your chances of recovering. If you arrive at the hospital within a few hours of a stroke’s onset, doctors may be able to give you medication that breaks up blood clots before they can cause too much damage.

Go to the emergency room or call 911 immediately if any of these symptoms occur:

  • Weakness or numbness in your arm, leg or face (may only affect one side)
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Facial drooping
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble seeing
  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty walking
  • Balance or coordination problems

As a young or middle-aged adult, you may not think you need to be aware of stroke symptoms. But with the possibility that COVID-19 exposure is increasing stroke risk in people who normally wouldn’t have a stroke, it’s important to know the symptoms and recognize the importance of getting medical help as soon as possible.


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Date Last Reviewed: May 14, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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