When it comes to the risk factors of strokes, most people draw a connection between high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption.
While all of these can increase your risk, new research from the American Heart Association shows that several infections have now been identified as possible stroke triggers. The latest study, published in the Stroke Journal, claims that urinary tract infections had the strongest link with ischemic strokes.
Ischemic strokes are caused by blood clots and can occur if a clot forms anywhere in the body and travels to the brain via the bloodstream (embolic stroke). The other type, thrombotic strokes, is where plaque sticks to the walls of the artery and blocks blood from passing through.
While previous research has examined infections as possible triggers of strokes, they were limited because they only investigated the impact of acute infections with ischemic strokes. Whereas the latest study considered a wider range of infections and examined connections with two other types of stroke.
The first type of stroke, intracerebral haemorrhage, is caused by a ruptured blood vessel in the brain. Meanwhile, subarachnoid haemorrhages result from bleeds in the inner lining of the brain.
“Healthcare providers need to be aware that stroke can be triggered by infections,” senior study author Mandip Dhamoon said in a statement. “Probing into the previous weeks or months of a patient’s life before the stroke can sometimes help to illuminate the possible causes of stroke if there was an infection during that time.”
Researchers analysed the New York State Inpatient Databases and Emergency Department Databases from 2006 to 2013, which contained all impatient and emergency department visits to community hospitals in the area.
Electronic health record codes were used to identify hospitalisations and emergency department visits for the three types of strokes, as well as an array of infections including skin, urinary tract, septicaemia, abdominal and respiratory. Records for hospitalisations for infections were considered up to 120 days prior to the stroke occurrence.
It was found that every infection type was linked with the increased likelihood of ischemic stroke, but that the strong link was seen with urinary tract infection. In fact, it showed more than three times the increased risk of ischemic stroke within 30 days of infection.
Urinary tract infections, septicaemia and respiratory infections also increased the risk for intracerebral haemorrhage, while subarachnoid haemorrhage was only associated with respiratory infection.
“Our study shows that we need to do more to understand why and how infections are associated with the occurrence of different kinds of stroke, and that will help us to determine what we can do to prevent these types of strokes,” Dhamoon said.
“These findings suggest that there could be implications for vaccination, antibiotic regimens or intensive antithrombotic treatments not only to prevent the infections but to prevent stroke in those who are deemed high-risk.”
In Australia, stroke is one of the biggest killers and a leading cause of disability, claiming more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer. According to the Stroke Foundation, more than 80 per cent of strokes can be prevented, but 65 per cent of stroke survivors go on to experience a disability that makes it difficult for them to complete daily tasks without assistance.
It’s always important to talk to a health professional about the best ways to reduce the risk for individual circumstances.
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