With Stroke, Seconds Count
Fear and worry. These feelings have gripped us all in one way or another during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Some fear is good, it helps guide us to make safe choices to ensure our health, but sometimes that same fear can disrupt healthy behaviors. As medical professionals, we are concerned our patients may be distancing themselves from hospitals and the important, preventive and urgent health care that they need.
In fact, an April study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that admissions for a serious type of heart attack known as STEMI dropped 38 percent after the pandemic hit. There are also reports that admissions for stroke are down considerably. In recent reports, people have specifically cited coronavirus worries as the reason for avoiding hospitals. This is incredibly concerning. Your health is important, now and always.
As a neurologist specializing in the treatment of stroke, I am seriously concerned about the possible implications when a patient is too afraid to seek medical treatment for a stroke-related emergency. It is critical to diagnose a stroke as early as possible because potential treatments for many types of stroke are absolutely dependent on time. In many cases that time window is brief. Immediate recognition and treatment may minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death.
Don’t Delay Your Care
I know firsthand the plans many hospitals and EMS crews have in place to keep potentially contagious patients away from others and to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. Calling 9-1-1 will ensure that you have the best possible chance to beat a heart attack or stroke. Emergency medical responders can assess symptoms, begin treatment in the ambulance, and transport you or a loved one to the most appropriate hospital, if necessary. Upon arrival, we are equipped and ready to provide care safely.
Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke or heart attack. A stroke occurs when normal blood flow in the brain is interrupted. A stroke caused by a blockage of blood flow is called an ischemic stroke, making up about 85 percent of all strokes in the United States. Stroke has many controllable risk factors. I recommend everyone commit to a healthier lifestyle by getting more physically active, eating a healthier diet, quitting smoking and getting regular check-ups. These lifestyle changes help to lower your risk of stroke and will help manage risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
As many people in our region are facing extended time at home and alone, it is possible that heart attack or stroke warning signs may go unnoticed. It is important to regularly check on those who live alone and those who are at greater risk. Speaking on the phone or video chats can give important clues about common stroke warning signs.
Know the Signs of Stroke
May is Stroke Awareness Month and the American Stroke Association wants the public to learn the signs and symptoms of stroke B.E.F.A.S.T (B – balance, E – eyes, F- face drooping, A – arm weakness, S- speech difficulties, T- time to call 9-1-1). Stroke is preventable, treatable and beatable. For more information, please visit Stroke.Org.
We all face new realities due to the pandemic but we should not let this stand in the way of seeking proven and effective care for other health care emergencies. The medical community is prepared and ready to help. Fear can be powerful but let me remind us all of another powerful emotion. Hope. Be well and B.E.F.A.S.T.
This piece was written by UVM Medical Center neurologist Christopher Commichau, MD.