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Common Infections May Contribute to Strokes
Date:11/10/2009

But researchers not exactly sure how pathogens raise risk of brain attack

TUESDAY, Nov. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to several common pathogens may increase the risk of having a stroke, a new study shows.

Led by Dr. Mitchell Elkind, an associate professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, the research team found that the pathogens Chlamydia pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori, cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 may be implicated in accelerating arterial disease, which in turn increases the risk of stroke.

The team's work appears in the Nov. 9 online edition of the Archives of Neurology, and will be published in the January 2010 print issue of the journal.

"These are infections that regularly pop up when we study heart disease," said Elkind. "They are very common in the population."

Scientists are not completely sure how the pathogens harm arterial function, but several theories offer suggestions. One possibility is that chronic infection leads to inflammation in the blood vessels, which can constrict blood flow. Another possibility, said Elkind, is that the pathogens disrupt the normal functioning of the arterial walls.

Strokes occur when there is a disruption in the blood supply to the brain, such as a blockage in an artery or other blood vessel. When this happens, brain cells begin to die, causing brain damage and even death. Common functions affected or lost during a stroke include speech, movement and memory.

Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Stroke Association. Strokes have many causes, but it is widely known that certain risk factors increase the chances of having a stroke. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity.

In recent years, evidence has been uncovering the role of pathogens in cardiovascular dise
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