During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers have seen an increase in the number of strokes in both younger and older adults. A stroke is a sudden interruption of blood supply to the brain, depriving this vital organ of oxygen and nutrients. Fast treatment is critical in preventing long-term damage or death. Unfortunately, fewer individuals are seeking immediate medical attention out of fear of contracting COVID-19 at a healthcare facility.
While more research is needed to confirm that COVID-19 causes strokes, physicians are recognizing that healthy patients are suffering strokes while also testing positive for the virus. Individuals with COVID-19 have a high risk for developing blood clots that can travel into brain arteries or veins, resulting in stroke. Older people who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 have a naturally higher risk for stroke due to their age and cardiovascular co-morbidities such as hypertension and diabetes.
With regards to the brain, individuals with COVID-19 can develop confusion, headache, loss of the sense of smell, lethargy, drowsiness and symptoms of stroke.
Stroke symptoms come suddenly. Acting FAST and seeking medical attention could reverse neurological deficits and result in better outcomes.
FAST is an acronym to help you remember stroke symptoms:
Given the concern for COVID-19 associated stroke, it is crucial to wear masks and follow public health guidelines such as social distancing and hand hygiene to reduce the risk of viral infection.
The key pillars of stroke prevention are physical activity, a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and medication compliance. Be sure to keep extra refills of medications on hand in case of a prolonged period of unavailability.
Most importantly, don’t ignore stroke symptoms out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Rest assured that healthcare providers are doing everything possible to protect patients from the virus and provide crucial medical help to those who need it.
If you or someone you know are experiencing stroke symptoms, call 911 and go to a hospital to get treated. Remember, the most effective treatment happens within a few hours after the stroke occurs.
Dr. Vanessa Brown is an emergency medicine physician and medical director of the Townsend Emergency Medical Center at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, CT. To learn more about emergency services at Day Kimball Healthcare, visit www.daykimball.org/emergency. For more information on Day Kimball Healthcare’s response to COVID-19, visit www.daykimball.org/coronavirus.