MS patients may be at higher risk of stroke: Review study

Researchers reviewed studies to compare MS patients, general population

Margarida Maia, PhD avatar

by Margarida Maia, PhD |

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The risk of having a stroke, that is, a blockage in blood flow to the brain that can cause lasting damage, is about 2.5 times higher in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) than the general population, a review of multiple studies finds.

The researchers called for further studies to confirm this association, but said “clinicians should recognize the elevated stroke risk and prioritize targeted stroke prevention strategies in the MS patient population to reduce stroke burden and improve patient outcomes.”

The study, “Prevalence and epidemiology of stroke in patients with multiple sclerosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” was published in the Journal of Neurology.

MS is marked by an autoimmune attack against healthy parts of the brain and spinal cord, and evidence suggests blood vessels may become impaired, increasing the risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular conditions.

Stroke is a cerebrovascular disease that occurs when the blood supply to certain regions of the brain is blocked or reduced. This is considered a medical emergency because it can cause brain cells to die from a lack of oxygen and nutrients. Stroke can cause weakness or numbness on one side of the body, a droopy face, and difficulty speaking or understanding speech.

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Higher stroke risk in MS

Here, researchers in Greece used a meta-analysis to combine data from 13 published studies involving 146,381 people with MS to see how the prevalence of stroke in MS compares with the general population. Among the participants, 2.7% had a stroke, which represented a 2.55 times higher risk over the general population.

The researchers then estimated the prevalence of an acute ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot lodges in a blood vessel, cutting off blood supply, and an intracerebral hemorrhage, when a blood vessel bursts and leaks blood into the brain.

The prevalence of these types of stroke was 2.1% and 0.6%, respectively. This means the risk for an acute ischemic stroke and an intracerebral hemorrhage was 2.79 and 2.31 times greater in people with MS than the general population.

While age wasn’t a significant predictor of all-cause stroke, it was negatively associated with the risk of acute ischemic stroke, with a one-year increase in age leading to a 3% decrease in risk.

“The findings of the present meta-analysis indicate a positive association between MS and risk of all-cause stroke, [acute ischemic stroke] and [intracerebral hemorrhage],” wrote the researchers, who noted this increased risk could be from a sedentary lifestyle, mental and heart problems, and genetics.