Acne and Stroke

Many people have worried about the widely circulated story that a really bad case of acne can spread to the brain and cause a stroke. This story has been the cause of alarm and panic for parents and teenagers for generations. But, is it true? Could acne really cause a stroke? And where did the idea that there might be a link between acne and stroke come from?

Is there a link between acne and stroke?

It turns out that there are no documented cases in the medical literature of acne causing a stroke.

In fact, there are not even documented case reports of severe, puss filled, infected acne causing a stroke. 

There is a low incidence of teenage stroke in general, and the teenage years are the years that are most acne prone. So, because there is no spike in stroke during the acne prone teen years and there are no medically reported cases of strokes related to acne, it doesn't appear that there is any valid scientific evidence to support a link between acne and stroke. 

Why is there a myth about stroke and acne?

It is an interesting myth. And, whenever there is a medical myth that is widely circulated, people naturally ask questions about where the myth came from and why it might have started in the first place. It is not specifically clear where this myth came from, but there are a few possible explanations for the unfounded worry.

Acne most commonly affects a person’s face, neck and head, which are located near the brain.

This could lead people to think that large, red or puss filled acne could travel to the brain to cause blood clots or infection or some other type of brain damage. 

Another explanation for the incorrect acne/stroke story could be founded in the true fact that there is a modestly increased risk of stroke after a serious infection.

However, acne is not a serious infection.

And yet another source of the acne/stroke myth could be that there are, in fact, instances in which a brain infection initially appears to be a stroke. An infection of the brain typically begins with stroke-like symptoms, such as weakness or vision loss. Furthermore, brain infections may affect blood flow throughout the brain, making blood clots (and therefore strokes) more likely. Brain infections such as meningitis, encephalitis or brain abscesses are not common, but they can cause strokes due to the disruption of blood flow in the brain and an increase in the number of immune cells that can predispose the body to sticky blood clots.

Is there a link between acne and any brain problem?

There are some rare reports of severe acne resulting in infections of the brain or the skull. These kinds of infections can cause symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of a stroke, but they are quite unusual and they develop slowly, causing fevers and severe headaches.

While the infection is in a mild form, it can still be easily treated with medication. Noticeable and treatable symptoms develop long before any infection would be severe enough to cause an unusual complication such as a stroke. 

There are a few documented cases of skin bacteria causing an infection of the brain, but it has been noted that the patients who would be most likely to develop a brain infection or a stroke from an infected skin lesion are people who have an immune system deficiency which allows a skin infection to spread to the brain. This is absolutely not the case with a healthy teenager who has acne, even if it is a severe case of acne.

Overall, acne is a nuisance and a noticeable cosmetic problem. Most of the time the problem is short-lived, lasting for a few years. Severe cases of acne can cause long term scarring. It is very rare for acne to spread to the brain, causing a brain or skull infection, and even more rare for acne to cause a stroke.


A case of synovitis, acne, pustulosis, hyperostosis, and osteitis (SAPHO) syndrome presenting with hypertrophic pachymeningitis, Shiraishi W, Hayashi S, Iwanga Y, Murai H, Yamamoto A, Kira J, Journal of the Neurological Sciences, February 2015

Brain abscess due to Nocardia cyriacigeorgica simulating an ischemic stroke, Lavalard E, Guillard T, Baumard S, Grillon A, Brasme L, Rodríguez-Nava V, Litré F, Delmer A, Boiron P, de Champs C. Annals De Biologie Clinique, May 2013

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