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Study: Fewer people seeking help for stroke

That is the result of a study published during the pandemic by a Geisinger neurosurgeon.

By now, many of us know the biggest warning signs of a stroke: remember FAST: face drooping, arm weakness, speech impairment, time to call 911.

Some experts use BE FAST, "B E," adding balance issues and eyesight that's blurred as possible symptoms as well.

But Dr. Clemens Schirmer, Vice-Chair of Geisinger's Neurosurgery Department, was noticing something strange as the coronavirus swept through the area: fewer people were going to the ER with stroke symptoms.

"People are trying to delay coming to the hospital. They have understandable anxiety about engaging in the healthcare system," said Dr. Clemens.

He, along with other researchers, did a study that was published this week in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery.

Using data from 12 stroke centers across the US, looking at February and March of this year versus last, they found that fewer people were seeking care for strokes, and those who were were waiting longer, in some cases, twice as long.

Lately, that has changed.

"The last week has been the total opposite from a few weeks before. All of a sudden, we have been inundated with people with stroke and other acute problems."

Dr. Schirmer points out a person suffering from a stroke loses brain cells every minute, so the faster you get help, the better the outcome, especially given the advancements in stroke care over the past five years.   

 "We have been able to offer patients treatment that is effective, and when used on the right patient, we can drastically change their chance of recovery," said Dr. Schirmer.

So while it's still May, Stroke Awareness Month, Dr. Schirmer recommends not delaying treatment for any reason, including because of COVID-19.

To read the published article, click here.

Background The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted established care paths worldwide. Patient awareness of the pandemic and executive limitations imposed on public life have changed the perception of when to seek care for acute conditions in some cases. We sought to study whether there is a delay in presentation for acute ischemic stroke patients in the first month of the pandemic in the US.