Don't ignore stroke symptoms during coronavirus pandemic

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With increasing evidence showing a link between Covid-19 and stroke, it's more important than ever to call 911 if someone shows signs they are having one, experts say.

"Despite a growing connection between Covid-19 and an increased risk of stroke, hospitals across the country continue to experience a decrease in stroke cases," said Dr Richard Klucznik, a stroke surgeon and president of the Society of Neuro Interventional Surgery.

"It's safe to assume the incidence of stroke isn't lessening – likely just the opposite – which suggests that patients are ignoring symptoms and delaying treatment for fear of exposure to the virus," Klucznik said in a society news release.

Stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability in the United States, with nearly 800 000 people suffering a stroke every year, resulting in 140 000 deaths and many survivors with permanent disabilities.

Taking every precaution

The number of stroke-related deaths will increase in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, especially if stroke patients continue to delay treatment and reach hospitals too late, Klucznik said.

Dr J. Mocco, a stroke surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said the connection between Covid-19 and stroke is real.

"After an initial drop in stroke cases in the time leading up to surge, the number of stroke patients doubled during the Covid-19 peak and more than half were Covid-19 positive. What's more, these patients were, on average, 15 years younger than typical stroke patients and among the least likely to otherwise have a stroke," Mocco said.

Dr Michael Levitt is a stroke surgeon with UW Medicine in Seattle. "Patients should know that stroke units in hospitals are taking every precaution to protect our patients and our staff from Covid-19 exposure," he said.

"What remains unchanged throughout this pandemic is that we still need to play it safe when it comes to stroke and always call 911. Avoiding or delaying treatment will only lead to more deaths," Levitt said.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month.

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