With the novel coronavirus infecting millions of individuals across the world, the severe respiratory and pulmonary disorders related to the infection have become more evident. However, recent studies suggest the presence of cerebrovascular-neurological dysfunction in patients infected with the virus, including large artery ischemic strokes that originate in one of the brain’s arteries, such as the carotid.
A team of researchers, led by Luca Cucullo, Ph.D., from the Texas Tech University Health Science Center (TTUHSC) have studied the side effects of tobacco use and vaping on the cerebrovascular and neurological systems for years. Their studies have strongly suggested that individuals who continuously use tobacco and vaping products are likely to be at more risk of viral and bacterial infection than non-smokers.
The case studies carried out by Cucullo and TTUHSC graduate research assistant Sabrina Rahman Archie involved reviewing the role tobacco use and vaping may play in the cerebrovascular and neurological systems of the individuals who were infected with the virus. The study’s findings have been published in the May edition of the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Past studies conducted by Cucullo demonstrated how smoking cam impair a person’s respiratory and vascular systems and, eventually, the brain. Since there were cases where COVID-19 impaired individuals’ respiratory and vascular systems, he and Archie wanted to ensure that there were any reported cases where the virus affected the brain and resulted in the onset of long-term neurological disorders like ischemic strokes. Besides, they looked for results that indicated smoking and vaping products could otherwise deteriorate the outcomes for COVID-19 patients.
Archie found that a few case studies demonstrated the presence of stroke occurrences in COVID-19 patients, and the rates seemed to be increasing. One case study involving 214 patients suggested that 36.45% of COVID-19 patients had an impaired neurological system, thereby implying that the virus can affect the cerebral vascular system.
The human body consists of 13 blood coagulation factors that can be increased because of hypoxia — a condition that occurs when the body does not get required amounts of oxygen — something that happens with smoking. The virus appears to be raising some blood procoagulant, notably the von Willebrand Factor, responsible for carrying coagulation factor VIII and promoting platelet adhesion at the wounded areas.
Since COVID-19 and the use of tobacco and vaping products increases blood coagulation factors that may ultimately impair the cerebral vascular system, Cucullo believes that COVID-19 patients who smoke are at higher risks.
The latest clinical study also suggested that certain damages cause caused by COVID-19 is permanent, especially the damage to the respiratory system. Cucullo further mentioned that patients who recover from the disease are still at a higher risk for stroke. In addition to causing specific impairments to the immune and cerebrovascular systems, tobacco and vaping products often deteriorate the outcomes for patients who contract seasonal flu or other respiratory and pulmonary diseases.
Cucullo added: “We are still unsure whether COVID-19 can reach the brain because nobody has studied it thoroughly. I think it’s quite early for a study of this spectrum; the primary clinical concern is either a potential medication or trying to ease the symptoms, particularly the respiratory symptoms, so they do not reach the severe stage. We are planning to carry out further studies to see what happens from that point of view.”