Anemics at higher death risk after stroke

Being anemic could more than triple your risk of dying within a year after having a stroke, say researchers.

Anemia is a common condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells.

Without red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, fatigue, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and other symptoms can occur.

Previous research has shown anemic people who have a heart attack, heart failure or kidney disease are more likely to die within a year. Only a few small studies have focused on the link between stroke and anemia-related death.

A new study reviewed medical records of 3,750 men treated for a first ischemic stroke at 131 Veterans Health Administration facilities in 2007. Ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is blocked.

It found that patients with severe anemia were 3.5 times more likely to die while still in the hospital and 2.5 times more likely to die within a year compared to stroke survivors who were not anemic.

Stroke survivors with moderate anemia were twice as likely to die within six to 12 months after a stroke.

People with mild anemia were about 1.5 times more likely to die within six to 12 months after a stroke.

"Among stroke patients, severe anemia is a potent predictor of dying throughout the first year after a stroke," said Jason Sico, M.D., lead researcher and an assistant professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

Anemia may be related to nutritional problems or blood loss in the stomach or intestines. Severe anemia may be treated with blood transfusions; however, studies have not been performed to see how safe and effective a blood transfusions are for someone hospitalized with an ischemic stroke.

"Regularly seeing your primary care physician is important. If blood tests show someone has anemia, working with one's doctors to figure out the cause is important," Sico said.

The research is ongoing and Sico hopes to determine within the next year which types of anemia are associated with higher risks.

The finding was presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2012.

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