A type of bacteria previously linked to ulcers may also be a key factor in some strokes, according to a study that lends support to the theory that infections and inflammation play a role in heart attacks and strokes.
Previous studies looking for a connection between Helicobacter pylori, the cause of most stomach ulcers, and stroke were inconclusive. But a new study scheduled to appear in the July 30 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Assn. suggests that particularly virulent strains of H. pylori can invade and damage arteries and potentially lead to a stroke.
Researchers led by Dr. Antonio Pietroiusti, an internist at the Tor Vergata University in Rome, found that H. pylori strains that produce potent poisons, called cytotoxins, were more prevalent in the blood of patients who suffered strokes caused by narrowing of arteries in the neck and brain. These cytotoxins are thought to attack plaque-lined artery walls, causing inflammation and swelling, creating an environment for a stroke.
Every year, 750,000 Americans suffer a stroke and 160,000 die, making strokes the third-leading cause of death in this country. They occur either when a blood clot forms inside a blood vessel and cuts off blood flow to the brain, killing cells, or when a blood vessel breaks.