COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind these days and rightfully so. Everyone’s life has been turned upside down, with frequent handwashing, masks, working from home, and the closing of non-essential businesses. Doctors and scientists have learned so many new things from studying the novel coronavirus and the patients infected with it. You may be puzzled by how many of the body’s functions and organs appear to be affected by COVID-19, and, at first, doctors and scientists were too. But now they know that the normal body protein that allows the novel coronavirus to enter cells, ACE-2, is present on cells that are…well, just about everywhere in our bodies.
In particular, blood vessels make a lot of ACE-2. Proteins in the ACE family are involved in activating a hormone that regulates blood pressure, so this isn’t surprising. But when the novel coronavirus infects the cells of the blood vessel walls, clotting takes place on those walls, and the blood vessels can get clogged up. One of the most dangerous effects of this clotting is clogging of the blood vessels that bring blood to the brain, a process that causes the brain injury called stroke.
Strokes from COVID-19 occur unusually frequently in young, previously healthy people. This means that they take people by surprise. Sometimes people think it couldn’t be a stroke because the person with sudden onset of asymmetry of the face, difficulty moving one arm, or slurred or hesitant speech is so young and so vigorous. But strokes can occur in children and even in babies before they are born. Don’t be fooled! Stroke of any cause is an emergency and a person of any age who may have had a stroke needs to go to a local Emergency Department right way.
One of the things that is hard to remember when COVID-19 so dominates the news, is that, just because COVID-19 is currently common, the diseases that have always affected people and the chronic conditions with which they deal everyday do not “go away.” COVID-19 may dominate the news; but high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, sickle cell disease, and drug addiction, conditions that make stroke more likely to occur, haven’t disappeared. The Emergency Departments of hospitals haven’t become “COVID Departments.” They are here to help with urgent health needs of every kind.
So here are the things to remember:
- Call 9-1-1 immediately if you or someone you’re with experiences any of these symptoms:
- Sudden one-sided numbness or weakness
- Sudden trouble speaking
- Sudden trouble seeing
- Sudden trouble walking
- Sudden severe headache Get that person to an Emergency Department, because it may be a stroke and the more quickly they are treated, the more complete their recovery and return to normal will be. Time is of the essence!
- COVID-19 is common, but STROKE is still a medical emergency!
- Stroke can occur at any age—even in babies, children, and adolescents.
- Having COVID-19 makes stroke more common in younger people. Everyone with stroke should be checked for COVID-19.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. And remember to act in time!