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

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In a study from Ohio State University, researchers found 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 (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 for endocarditis, 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 light of the ongoing, two-decades-long national opioid epidemic, researchers wanted to understand the risk of stroke among patients with endocarditis from IV drug use compared to patients with endocarditis due to other causes.

In the study, the team tested 351 patients treated for endocarditis 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.

Patients with endocarditis from IV drug use were more likely than other patients to be homeless, unemployed and uninsured.

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

The research suggests 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 stroke, please read studies about antioxidant drug that could protect against stroke and heart attack, and drug combo that could halve the risk of heart attack, stroke.

For more information about stroke, please see recent studies about diets that could lower heart attack, stroke risk in women with diabetes, and results showing that people with stroke and heart disease should use opioids cautiously.

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

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