Complications after a stroke may increase risk of future heart problems, study finds

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Experts say post-stroke complications are common among patients

A new study conducted by researchers from the American Heart Association explored some of the health risks that stroke survivors often face.

According to their findings, experiencing heart-related complications within one month of having a stroke may put patients at a higher risk for future heart attack, another stroke, or death. 

“We know heart disease and stroke share similar risk factors, and there’s a two-way relationship between the risk of stroke and heart disease,” said researcher Benjamin J.R. Buckley, Ph.D. “For example, heart conditions and stroke also increase the risk of heart conditions. We wanted to know how common newly diagnosed heart complications after a stroke and, importantly, whether stroke-heart syndrome is associated with increased risk of long-term major adverse events.” 

Long-term heart health risks

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 365,000 treated for strokes between 2002 and 2021. The team analyzed the long-term heart health outcomes of people who developed stroke-heart syndrome, which is a condition defined by heart-related complications after having a stroke.

The researchers learned that heart complications following a stroke were fairly common among the participants. Over 11% developed acute coronary syndrome, nearly 9% developed atrial fibrillation, and over 6% developed heart failure following a stroke.

Ultimately, these heart troubles were linked with long-term health concerns. Those with atrial fibrillation following a stroke were 10% as likely to have another stroke within five years, while those who developed any kind of cardiovascular issues after a stroke were 50% more likely to have another stroke. 

“I was particularly surprised by how common stroke-heart syndrome was and the high rate of recurrent strokes in all subgroups of adults with stroke-heart syndrome,” Dr. Buckley said. “This means that this is a high-risk population where we should focus more secondary prevention efforts.” 

Higher risk of death

The risk of death among these stroke-heart syndrome patients was also higher. The study showed that developing heart failure post-stroke raised the risk of death within five years by nearly 85%. Similarly, those with acute coronary syndrome were 49% more likely to die within five years, while those with atrial fibrillation were 45% more likely to die within that time frame. 

The researchers hope to do more work to better understand which patients have the highest risk of developing stroke-heart syndrome and what health care professionals can do to best care for them.

“We are working on additional research to determine how stroke-heart syndrome may be better predicted,” Dr. Buckley said. “We also need to develop and implement treatments to improve outcomes for people with stroke-heart syndrome. For example, comprehensive exercise-based rehabilitation may be helpful after a stroke, so for people with stroke and newly developed heart complications, it should also be beneficial, maybe even more so.” 

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