Infection May Increase Risk for Stroke

It’s been well established with medical research that smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can contribute to an increased risk for stroke, but a new study looks at how infection, especially urinary tract infections (UTIs), may trigger a stroke. 

According to a study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, researchers from the Department of Neurology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York used a large set of data to look at a wide range of infections and their effect on ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke. 

Infection can lead to an increase in the likelihood for blood to clot and can also affect how blood vessels function, which may lead to blockage or rupture and result in a stroke.  Most strokes are ischemic and caused by blood clots rather than bleeding around the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).  For the purpose of the study, researchers compared different types of infection including skin, urinary tract, respiratory, abdominal and blood infection (septicemia) and their link with the risk for a stroke.  

Urinary tract infection was associated with the greatest increase in the risk for stroke within one week.  Patients with a UTI had a five times greater risk for stroke within 7 days and a 3 times increased risk within 30 days of being diagnosed with a urinary tract infection.  Researchers believe infection is most likely to trigger a stroke within a short window of time and once the infection is treated, the body gradually returns to a more normal state.  

Understanding how infection may affect the risk for stroke, especially among people with other risk factors, will help prevent more strokes.   Treating high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and atrial fibrillation, stopping smoking, getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet are all important factors for preventing stroke but this new research also highlights the importance of avoiding infection, preventing dehydration (which contributes to clotting and infection) and treating UTIs quickly. 

Always talk with your doctor about any medication, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements, especially if you have high blood pressure.  Some cold medications can increase the risk for stroke if you already have hypertension.   Learn more about symptoms of a UTI, causes, risk factors and prevention by following this link to the Mayo Clinic.