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Patients’ high iron levels may make strokes worse

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Stroke patients with elevated levels of iron are much more likely to experience more severe neurological symptoms and possibly increased brain damage, according to a recent study published in Neurology.

Blood ferritin — an indicator of the total amount of iron stored in the body — in high concentrations is believed to intensify and progress neurological problems immediately following stroke, including increased weakness, speech and orientation difficulties and decreased levels of consciousness. Patients with progressing stoke and high ferritin concentrations also may have larger areas of the brain damaged by the stroke.

"High body iron stores might contribute to stroke progression by increasing the production of free radicals in brain cells and in the walls of brain microvessels," said Dr. Antoni Davalos, the study's lead author. "Free radicals destroy the cell components and promote other mechanisms of injury that might enlarge the damaged area of the brain, referred to as the cerebral infarct volume."