Doctors have found evidence that the coronavirus is causing sudden strokes in adults in their 30s and 40s who are otherwise not debilitatingly ill, reported CNN Wednesday, some of whom are reluctant to call 911 due to concerns about hospital overcrowding due to the global pandemic.
Dr. Thomas Oxley, a neurosurgeon at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, and his colleagues detailed what they think is part of the initial proof for the theory that the coronavirus causes abnormal blood clotting, notes from five people they treated for a stroke under the age of 50 who all had zero-to-mild symptoms of the coronavirus.
"The virus seems to be causing increased clotting in the large arteries, leading to severe stroke," Oxley told CNN. "Our report shows a seven-fold increase in incidence of sudden stroke in young patients during the past two weeks. Most of these patients have no past medical history and were at home with either mild symptoms (or in two cases, no symptoms) of COVID. ...All tested positive. Two of them delayed calling an ambulance."
The team wrote in a letter to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine, "For comparison, our service, over the previous 12 months, has treated on average 0.73 patients every 2 weeks under the age of 50 years with large vessel stroke." That works out to be fewer than two people treated a month. Oxley explained to CNN that because a stroke in a large blood vessel causes severe damage if not removed right away, the consequences to delaying treatment are dire. At least one patient has died of the people they have treated, while others are in rehabilitation facilities, intensive care or in the stroke unit, Oxley said. The one patient who has been released home will require intense care.
"The average person who has a large vessel stroke is severely impaired. It means it a bigger clot. It includes one of the largest arteries in the brain," Oxley said. "The most effective treatment for large vessel stroke is clot retrieval, but this must be performed within 6 hours, and sometimes within 24 hours."
His team is now advising people to watch for symptoms of coronavirus infection in themselves and to call 911 if they have any symptoms of a stroke, despite previous advice to only call for an ambulance with shortness of breath or a high fever. An easy memory device for stroke symptoms is "FAST": face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and time to call 911.