More heart infections and strokes in the U.S. linked to opioid epidemic

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In a new study, researchers found that the ongoing U.S. opioid epidemic may have led to an increase in the number of strokes due to more bacterial infections of the heart (i.e. endocarditis).

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and a major contributor to long-term disability.

Typically each year in the United States, up to 47,000 people are treated in the hospital, which increases stroke risk.

This serious, sometimes deadly infection occurs when bacteria in the bloodstream reach the heart lining, valves or blood vessels. While endocarditis is uncommon, people with certain heart conditions are at greater risk.

Another risk factor for endocarditis is intravenous (IV) drug use. During IV drug use, bacteria from the injection needle enter the bloodstream.

In the study, the team wanted to understand the risk of stroke among patients with endocarditis from IV drug use compared to patients with endocarditis due to other causes.

This study included 351 patients treated for endocarditis at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center between January 1, 2014 and July 1, 2018. Nearly half of the patients had a history of IV drug use.

The researchers found: Over the four-year study, the occurrence of endocarditis from IV drug use increased by 630%.

Patients with endocarditis due to IV drug use were much more likely (26%) than those with endocarditis from other causes (14%) to have a stroke.

The team says patients who are known IV drug users who have endocarditis should be more carefully screened for symptoms of heart disease.

The findings suggest that the impact of the opioid epidemic is far-reaching and contributes to increased costs in the criminal justice, health care systems and the workplace. The increased costs can be particularly substantial for stroke care.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about this common sleep habit may strongly harm your heart health and findings of new causes of irregular heartbeat.

For more information about heart disease prevention and treatment, please see recent studies about a big risk factor for heart disease and fatty liver disease and results showing two simple ways to prevent heart attacks.

The study was presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2021. One author of the study is Shahid M. Nimjee, M.D., Ph.D.

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