During the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians and nurses at Mercy Hospital South, a Level 1 Stroke Center, have noticed a disturbing trend. Fewer patients are seeking treatment for stroke symptoms, and many patients who have suffered a stroke arrive several days after first noticing their symptoms.
“Unfortunately, when these patients wait, they find their symptoms get worse,” said Dr. Maheen Malik, neurologist and medical director of the stroke program at Mercy South. “By the time they arrive at the emergency room, they’ve missed the window where we’re able to provide treatment that will repair damage caused by the stroke.”
Physicians are aware some patients may be worried about their safety because of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders.
“We understand concerns regarding exposure to germs, but time matters when it comes to many serious conditions, including stroke,” said Dr. Alok Sengupta, medical director for Mercy emergency departments in the St. Louis region, which includes Level 1 Stroke Centers at Mercy Hospital St. Louis and Mercy Hospital South. “We have safety precautions in place to keep potential COVID-19 patients separate from other patients and minimize the risk of exposure.”
Mercy has found another factor in delayed stroke treatment: physical distancing is decreasing how often people are visiting and checking in on loved ones who live alone.
“With no one checking on them, some people, particularly older residents, are missing out on the help they need,” said Liz Schelp, registered nurse and stroke program manager at Mercy South. “It’s important to regularly check in with your loved ones, whether that’s by phone or, even better, by video calls. Daily or multiple calls a day would be ideal for older people who are at risk for stroke and a variety of other health issues.”
The impact of the pandemic on stroke care brings extra importance to Stroke Awareness Month this May. When it comes to stroke, time is brain – meaning the sooner a stroke is treated, the more brain function can be restored.
A helpful phrase when it comes to stroke symptoms is to B.E.F.A.S.T., which stands for balance, eyes, face, arms and speech, which can all indicate a stroke. The “t” stands for time as a reminder that seeking treatment right away is the key to the best recovery.
“We’ve also found another impact from the pandemic on our stroke and other emergency patients,” said Schelp. “Hospitals’ no visitor policies mean we are relying on our patients to provide contact information and helpful info like medication lists. Everyone can help out in their own care by keeping this information with them or in a place that is easy for paramedics to find should they be needed at your home.”