Sudden hearing loss may signal vulnerability to stroke, according to a recent study. Scientists at Taipei Medical University in Taiwan found that people who went deaf with no warning had a 1.64 times greater likelihood of suffering a stroke within five years.
Researchers examined the records of 1,423 patients hospitalized for sudden hearing loss and a control group of 5,692 patients hospitalized for appendectomies. In the following five years, 180 hearing loss patients (12.7%) and 441 appendectomy patients (7.8%) suffered strokes. After adjusting for other factors such as income, gender and other medical conditions, researchers concluded that the risk was 1.64 times higher in the hearing loss group. Investigators acknowledge that further research is required, as there were limitations in the study. For example, the data did not incorporate information about the severity of hearing loss, the extent of recovery or stroke risk factors such as tobacco use, weight or history of cardiovascular disease. The results were published in the October 2008 issue of the journal Stroke.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT ABOUT THIS
When I called Bruce Ovbiagele, MD, associate professor of neurology and director of the Stroke Program at Olive-View/UCLA Medical Center in California, to ask about this study, he told me that sudden onset of symptoms is what is most significant. A stroke can affect any part of the brain, he said, urging people to remember that any neurological symptom that comes on suddenly should be considered a potential warning sign — to be followed up with prompt medical attention.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the most common cause of long-term disability in this country. Treatment can be safe and effective, but only if administered promptly. While the standard of care is that treatment should be administered within three hours of the onset of symptoms, recent research suggests that it may be helpful even up to four and a half hours later. Do not ignore symptoms, even if they go away, for they may also be a harbinger of future risk — always follow up with your physician. If you suspect a stroke, call 911 and seek treatment ASAP.