Stroke remains one of the main causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide. Immediately after stroke, a neuroinflammatory process starts in the brain, triggering a systemic immunodepression mainly through excessive activation of the autonomous nervous system. Manifestations of immunodepression include lymphopenia but also dysfunctional innate and adaptive immune cells. The resulting impaired antibacterial defenses render patients with stroke susceptible to infections. In addition, other risk factors like stroke severity, dysphagia, impaired consciousness, mechanical ventilation, catheterization, and older age predispose stroke patients for infections. Most common infections are pneumonia and urinary tract infection, both occur in ≈10% of the patients. Especially pneumonia increases unfavorable outcome and mortality in patients with stroke; systemic effects like hypotension, fever, delay in rehabilitation are thought to play a crucial role. Experimental and clinical data suggest that systemic infections enhance autoreactive immune responses against brain antigens and thus negatively affect outcome but convincing evidence is lacking. Prevention of poststroke infections by preventive antibiotic therapy did not improve functional outcome after stroke. Immunomodulatory approaches counteracting immunodepression to prevent stroke-associated pneumonia need to account for neuroinflammation in the ischemic brain and avoid further tissue damage. Experimental studies discovered interesting targets, but these have not yet been investigated in patients with stroke. A better understanding of the pathobiology may help to develop optimized approaches of preventive antibiotic therapy or immunomodulation to effectively prevent stroke-associated pneumonia while improving long-term outcome after stroke. In this review, we aim to characterize epidemiology, risk factors, cause, diagnosis, clinical presentation, and potential treatment of poststroke immunosuppression and associated infections.
Keywords: antibiotics; dysphagia; immunomodulation; lymphopenia; pneumonia; risk factors.