By Carolyn Comeau
Multiple news outlets have reported recently that hospital emergency departments across the country are experiencing noticeable drops in patients coming in who suspect they may be having a stroke, due to trying to heed widespread messaging about COVID-19.
“This past month we’ve also seen an increase in stroke patients waiting too long to get care, essentially missing the critical window for acute treatment, and it worries me,” said Robin Jones, MSN, Stroke Program Manager at the Mission Health Comprehensive Stroke Center. “We appreciate that many are conscientious about not coming to the ED for nonurgent problems out of a sense of responsibility to their communities. If you have a mild illness, it’s alright to seek virtual care or take a wait-and-see attitude, but the same advice doesn’t apply during a health crisis like a stroke.”
Sobering Stroke Facts
Contrary to what some have heard, Jones said, the ED is neither overcrowded nor chaotic, and that recognizing stroke symptoms and seeking care as soon as possible remains paramount. Jones’s concern is well-founded, because a patient’s ability to recover from a stroke is profoundly impacted by the timeliness of their care.
“We say ‘time is brain’ in the stroke world, because when a clot in an artery prevents blood from getting to the brain, as in an ischemic stroke, brain cells die,” said Jones. “There’s a very finite time window during which you must be treated. The sooner you get care, the likelier you are to recover to the fullest extent.”
Know the Symptoms
Ischemic strokes account for over 85 percent of all strokes, and hemorrhagic strokes occur as a result of a blood vessel rupture. We realize that because stroke symptoms are varied, people can get confused, which is why we remind people at every opportunity about BEFAST, the acronym that explains stroke symptoms in an easy-to-remember way:
B – Can you keep your balance?
E – Eyes, is your vision blurry?
F – Face, can you detect any drooping?
A – Arm weakness or numbness?
S – Speech, is it slurred or confused?
T – Time to call 911!
Those living alone are at higher risk for stroke while they shelter in place, noted Jones. “We’re encouraging people to check in daily on that family member, friend or neighbor who lives alone — no matter their age — to make sure they’re okay.”
She stressed too that this isn’t the time for people with chronic high blood pressure to skimp on taking or refilling prescriptions for their medications. “Good self-care now — eating well, exercising, controlling stress and virtual get-togethers — will prevent a resurgence of stroke patients in six months.”
ED and Stroke Care Equal to Pre-pandemic Standards
“Great advances in stroke care have made stroke the fifth leading cause of death, whereas it used to come in second,” said Jones. “As a Comprehensive Stroke Center, we offer advanced neuroimaging and clot removal capabilities, and we have expert stroke neurologists here 24/7, a specialty ICU and nursing unit, fantastic rehabilitation services and our Stroke Camp program for patients and their family caregivers.”
Jones related that the ED is just as equipped now to treat stroke patients. “We’re complying with all CDC recommendations to protect our staff, physicians and most importantly, our patients, as we provide the safest care during COVID-19,” she said. “Even though we can’t admit family members, we maintain excellent communication with them once a patient is admitted. HCA has also ensured that our personal protective equipment supply is more than adequate and we’re being good stewards of it.”
Apart from encouraging people get immediate care if they suspect stroke, Jones reassured the community that the care they receive remains uncompromised, despite these unprecedented times. “We’re here to care for you just as before, armed with the same innovative technology and fully equipped expert care teams,” said Jones.
Robin Jones, MSN, is the Stroke Program Manager at the Mission Health Comprehensive Stroke Center.