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Stroke. 2003 Oct;34(10):2518-32. Epub 2003 Sep 18.

Inflammation and infections as risk factors for ischemic stroke.

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Department of Neurology, Helsinki University Central Hospital and Biomedicum Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.



Inflammatory processes have fundamental roles in stroke in both the etiology of ischemic cerebrovascular disease and the pathophysiology of cerebral ischemia. We summarize clinical data on infection and inflammation as risk or trigger factors for human stroke and investigate current evidence for the hypothesis of a functional interrelation between traditional risk factors, genetic predisposition, and infection/inflammation in stroke pathogenesis.


Several traditional vascular risk factors are associated with proinflammatory alterations, including leukocyte activation, and predispose cerebral vasculature to thrombogenesis on inflammatory stimulation. Furthermore, accumulation of inflammatory cells, mainly monocytes/macrophages, within the vascular wall starts early during atherogenesis. During later disease stages, their activation can lead to plaque rupture and thrombus formation, increasing stroke risk. Inflammatory markers (eg, leukocytes, fibrinogen, C-reactive protein) are independent predictors of ischemic stroke. Chronic infections (eg, infection with Chlamydia pneumoniae or Helicobacter pylori) were found to increase the risk of stroke; however, study results are at variance, residual confounding is not excluded, and causality is not established at present. In case-control studies, acute infection within the preceding week was a trigger factor for ischemic stroke. Acute and exacerbating chronic infection may act by activating coagulation and chronic infections and may contribute to atherogenesis. Genetic predisposition of the inflammatory host response may be an important codeterminant for atherogenesis and stroke risk.


Inflammation contributes to stroke risk via various interrelated mechanisms. Infectious diseases, traditional risk factors, and genetic susceptibility may cooperate in stimulating inflammatory pathways. Final proof of a causal role of infectious/inflammatory mechanisms in stroke pathogenesis is still lacking and will require interventional studies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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