Strokes still a concern during COVID-19 pandemic
Strokes remain a leading cause of disability, but they're preventable and treatable. May is Stroke Awareness Month, and the message is taking on an increased concern during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strokes, or a brain attack, happen when blood flow through an artery becomes blocked. It can also happen when an artery in the brain ruptures, both causing brain cells to die, and resulting in permanent damage.
"Patients are going to be left with either weakness, numbness, gait difficulty, visual impairment, things that will prevent them from continuing their daily activities and to depend on others," Dr. Renzo Figari, a neurologist and Stroke Team Medical Director, said.
At Augusta Health, there were 43 stroke alerts in the emergency department in April 2019, compared to 14 last month. Doctors said it's unlikely there were fewer strokes in the area.
"Most of the patients that I'm seeing in the hospital that are coming eventually are having symptoms that are starting several days before coming to the hospital,' Dr. Figari said.
Strokes can happen to anyone at any time. Researchers say the chances increase with age, and more women have strokes then men. Some of the risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, poor circulation and obesity.
Signs of a stroke can include a sudden loss of balance, losing vision in one or both eyes, a face appearing uneven, a weak arm or numbness, and slurred speech or seeming confused. When strokes happen, time is of the essence. Dr. Figari said the treatment used for strokes, tPA, has to be administered within hours of symptoms.
"If patients come after that window, then unfortunately, we don't have an option to offer this treatment, and we know that patients who receive the treatment have a better chance of recovering without disability,' Dr. Figari said.
Augusta Health said the hospital is a safe place for people to come right now. They've redesigned the emergency department to decrease risk of exposure to COVID-19, and patients are screened for COVID-19. If they show symptoms, they're taken directly to a room.