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Relationship between increase in stroke cases and pandemic examined

For many people the challenges of working from home and stay-at-home orders were taxing. It’s not an easy thing to do; going from a society that focuses heavily on always being busy out in the world, to suddenly being just as busy, but that world became the walls of our homes.

It also meant we sat at our computers. A lot.

Medical experts now say they are seeing a lot of stroke cases, many as a direct result of the pandemic. According to Dr. Samina Anwar, a neurologist and medical director of the stroke program at Meritus Medical Center, the increase in cases is due to several reasons.

First, like many other health care issues, is the delay in care. People who had minor symptoms or were at a higher risk, would often delay care due to the fear of going to the hospital in the early days of the pandemic when much about COVID-19 was largely unknown.

“We’ve concluded that for many people who had minor stroke-like-symptoms, they were fearful of coming to the hospital. They were afraid of getting COVID as a secondary inflection,” Anwar said, adding that due to patients not seeking care, this meant the number of stroke cases at the onset of the pandemic initially dropped.

The second reason is that working from home, and stay-at-home orders, resulted in a much more sedentary lifestyle for many groups of people.

“There was a general negligence to take care of things like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart issues,” Anwar said.

There’s also COVID-19 itself.

“COVID-19 itself increases the risk of stroke, because it is a systemic disease,” Anwar said. “It involves the vascular system of our body, and there is inflammation in the blood vessels. It makes the blood more coagulable, which increases the risk of blood vessels being blocked, and in turn, stroke.”

As cases of COVID-19 began to improve, the number of stroke cases began to increase. According to Anwar, if patients are reluctant to come to the hospital when they experience stroke symptoms, as time passes, the treatment options quickly diminish.

“We had been seeing twice the normal death numbers related to stroke complications, because patients were not coming to seek medical treatment right away. Then by the time they were having a full-blown stroke, it was too late for acute treatment,” she said.

Meritus Medical Center has been serving the community as a primary stroke center since 2007, and is affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center telestroke program.

Emergency providers at Meritus Medical Center and vascular neurologists at the UPMC are able to help diagnose and manage stroke patients using live audio/visual telecommunication services. Through this telemedicine partnership, a vascular neurologist is available 24/7 to patients receiving care at Meritus Medical Center.

Educating yourself and others to BE FAST can help you identify some of the signs of stroke and prepare you to act with urgency. A sudden onset of the following may indicate a stroke:

Balance. Loss of balance, Dizziness. Unstable with less coordination, stumbling, unable to walk straight. Feeling faint, lightheaded or like the room is spinning.

Eyes. Vision changes. Blurred vision or trouble with eyesight in one or both eyes.

Face. Facial drooping, Severe headache. One side of the face is drooping or looks uneven when you smile. Pain or discomfort in the head, scalp or neck with no known cause.

Arms. Weakness, numbness. Lack of strength in the arm or leg, especially on one side of the body. A tingling feeling in the body (Face, arm or leg) like pins and needles.

Speech. Trouble speaking, confusion. Unable to speak or slurred speech, unable to understand what is happening, can’t think clearly or feel thrown off.

Time. Call 911 at the first sign of any of the above signs and symptoms. Make note of the last time your loved one was normal and let EMS personal aware of this time, as time is brain.

“The BE FAST acronym is something that we always try and education people on. There are certain therapies, which are only available in the initial time frame. The longer you wait, the chances of a disability or fatality is great,” Anwar said.

Meritus Medical Center has been a certified primary stroke center since 2007. Click here for more information.