Stroke is a word everyone recognizes, but no one wants to hear. It can have devastating and long-lasting effects on a person’s health, limiting everyday movement and independence. John Hopkins estimates that around 795,000 Americans are affected by a stroke each year. Recent research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Conference has linked winter weather to an increased risk of hospitalization. These findings were even more compelling in light of storms across the US, which have affected over 20 states.
Southern parts of the country were also hit by extreme winter weather this week. Georgia declared a state of emergency. Over 45 of its counties were impacted by sleet, freezing rain and snow. Schools and businesses were closed. Roads and transportation became a primary concern, yet few people were aware of the threat posed to their health by the sudden drop in temperature.
Shazam Hussain, who is Head of Cleveland Clinic Stroke Program also attended Thursday’s conference. Hussain acknowledged that while treatment has improved, “we have a long way to go” in terms of providing the right drugs and hospital access.
Associate professor in epidemiology, Dr. Judith H Lichtman warned that “weather conditions are among the multiple factors that are associated with stroke hospitalizations”. As temperatures drop and air moisture rises, people are more likely to suffer a clot in the brain vessels. Although most people do not normally associate a drop in temperature with the risk of having a stroke, new evidence shows that winter weather is directly linked.
The study focused on adults who suffered an ischemic stroke, the most common form. Around 85 percent of patients admitted to hospitals for a stroke are categorized as ischemic. It is caused when blood vessels become blocked by clots or plaque deposits. The blockage stops blood flow to the brain. Ischemic differs from hemorrhagic strokes, which are caused when a vessel bursts in the brain.
The study revealed one startling trend. It seems more than ever younger groups of patients are being implicated. Although the findings have not been peer reviewed, they are the start of a new dialogue when it comes to education and prevention.
Specifically, researchers discovered that the more the temperature fluctuated, the more likely a person will be admitted to a hospital for a clots in the brain’s vessels. The relationship was also influenced by the average dew point or moisture present.
With every 5 degree Fahrenheit temperature fluctuation, the risk of hospitalization was increased by 6%. Similarly, every 5 degree increase in dew point level was linked with a 2 percent increase in admittance. Researchers ultimately found that lower average temperature was the most frequent indicator.
To back up these findings, the research also showed that for every 1-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature, there was a corresponding 0.86 percent decrease in risk. The same 1-degree increase in temperature also resulted in a 1.1. percent decrease in stroke related death. Ultimately, this research showed that higher temperatures effectively decrease a person’s overall risk. Researchers did not find temperature fluctuations were directly linked with the risk of death, which means winter weather only factors into increasing a person’s chance of having a stroke, not dying from it.
By Simone Innamorati
American Stroke Association