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Adults With Heart Defects May Face Higher Risk of Stroke, Study Finds

Researchers urge these patients to visit a cardiologist regularly

Adults who were born with heart defects are at increased risk for stroke, a new study finds.

"We knew there was a connection between heart failure and stroke in patients with heart defects, but we were surprised to discover it was the strongest predictor," said senior study author Dr. Ariane Marelli, a professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal. However, a HealthDay article notes, the study did not prove that heart defects cause stroke.

For the study, researchers looked at stroke rates among more than 29,000 adults born with heart defects, and compared them with rates among people in the general population of the province of Quebec, Canada.

Those with heart defects were nine to 12 times more likely to suffer an ischemic stroke (blocked blood flow to the brain) before age 55. In addition, they were two to four times more likely to have this type of stroke between the ages of 55 and 64, the investigators found.

The strongest predictors of ischemic strokes in adults with heart defects were heart failure, diabetes, and recent heart attacks, the study authors said. In addition, adults born with heart defects were five to six times more likely to have a bleeding ("hemorrhagic") stroke before age 55, and two to three times more likely to have this type of stroke between the ages of 55 and 64.

Nearly 9% of men and 7% of women born with heart defects had at least one stroke before age 65, according to the study published online November 23 in the journal Circulation. "Our study also suggests that other well-known risk factors for stroke — such as irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure — may be underdetected in patients born with a heart defect," said study first author Dr. Jonas Lanz, a research fellow at McGill.

The findings show the need for adults born with heart defects to make regular visits to a cardiologist, to reduce their risk of stroke, Marelli said. These patients, along with their family and friends, should also learn the signs of stroke and know how to get professional medical help quickly if a stroke is suspected, she added. Every year, nearly 129,000 Americans die of stroke, which is the nation's fifth leading cause of death.

Source: HealthDay, November 25, 2015.

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