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The Link Between Anemia and Deaths Caused by Stroke

September 12, 2016
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Caring for a stroke patient? Check to see if they have anemia. In a recent study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, analysts discovered a relationship between death by stroke and individuals diagnosed with anemia. The research, conducted by Dr. Phyo Myint and the University of Aberdeen, observed 8,013 adults admitted into hospitals for acute stroke from 2003-2015. Participants had their hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells, measured, and were monitored after hospital release. The study revealed that 25 percent of hospital stroke admissions, with an average age of 77, had anemic patients, and the risk of death heightened throughout the year. If a patient suffered from an ischemic stroke, the risk of death doubled, while hemorrhagic strokes had a 1.5 times greater risk. Jason J. Sico, MD and Assistant Professor of Neurology and Internal Medicine at Yale, found similar results in his own 2012 study. “Having a history of severe anemia is a potent predictor of dying anytime throughout the first year – more potent than having heart disease, and more potent than having cancer,” he said. Strokes affect around 795,000 people ever year in the United States, and is the fifth leading cause of death. Typically, strokes are caused by the blood supply getting blocked in the brain or a blood vessel rupturing and killing brain tissue. It also is the leading cause of long-term disability, costing the U.S. around $34 billion annually. The correlation between anemia and strokes are found in the hemoglobin. Anemia comes from lowered levels of red blood cells, and results in a shortage of oxygen that is needed for your body’s organs and tissues. The study also reveals that hemoglobin levels, both low and high, resulted in a higher number of patient deaths. Since the hemoglobin is directly related to the brain’s blood supply, it may be concluded that anemia furthers the risk of a stroke. "There is no clear evidence to suggest treating anemia will prevent stroke, but like in many other conditions, people with anemia should find out why they are anemic and treat the cause if possible," said Myint. Researchers hope the study highlights the importance of anemia prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Raphae Barlas, a co-author on the University of Aberdeen study, notes that anemia should always be factored in while treating stroke patients. “As the study has convincingly demonstrated, anemia does worsen the outcome of a stroke, so it is very important that we identify at-risk patients and optimize the management, “ he said. There are over 400 known types of anemia, and each are segmented into three causes: blood loss, a decreased population or faulty production of red blood cells, and the destruction of red blood cells. Now that Myint’s study presents anemia’s overwhelming affect on strokes, researchers can further analyze what specific type of anemia is most prevalent in stroke cases. Barlas also recommends “intervening” when signs of anemia appear, to avoid the lessening of oxygen in the blood system. Traditional symptoms include headaches, pale skin, fatigue and dizziness. “One example of an intervention might be treating the underlying causes of anemia, such as iron deficiency, which is common in the age group,” he added.
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