The results, published in the journal Neurology, have the potential to identify and focus treatment efforts on those most at risk, and could reduce deaths from Covid-19.
“This study is the first to show that the presence of neurological symptoms, particularly stroke and confused or altered thinking, can indicate more serious disease progression, even if lung problems are not severe,” said study author David Altschul of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the USA.
“Hospitals can use this knowledge to prioritize treatment and hopefully save more lives during this pandemic,” Altschul added.
The study examined data from 4,711 Covid-19 patients admitted to Montefiore during the six-week period between March 1, 2020 and April 16, 2020.
Of these patients, 581 (12 percent) had neurologic problems severe enough to warrant brain imaging.
These individuals were compared to 1,743 non-neurological Covid-19 patients of similar age and severity enrolled over the same period.
55 people who had brain imaging were diagnosed with a stroke and 258 people showed confusion or altered thinking skills.
The results showed that people with stroke were twice as likely to die (49 percent mortality) than their controls (24 percent mortality) – a statistically significant difference.
People with confusion had a 40 percent death rate compared to 33 percent for their matched controls – also statistically significant.
Also, more than half of the stroke patients in the study did not have high blood pressure or other underlying risk factors for stroke.
“This highly unusual finding agrees with other studies of people with Covid-19 that infection with the novel coronavirus itself is a risk factor for a stroke,” noted Altschul.