FAIRFAX, Va. — Except for the hospitals in the COVID-19 “hotspots,” many urgent care centers and emergency rooms across the country have been operating at a significantly reduced capacity. Recent research shows that many Americans are delaying necessary medical care out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. Now a new study shows that to be especially true for people suffering strokes, putting their lives at risk in the process.
Research from the Endovascular Research Group shows that many stroke patients have not been going to the hospital, increasing their risk of severe damage, while reducing their chances of recovery.
“When it comes to stroke treatment, every minute counts. My colleagues and I have been devastated to see patients arriving at the hospital too late for us to help them,” says lead author Dr. Clemens Schirmer from the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania, in a press release. “Our findings indicate a dire need for public education to address COVID-19 related fears to ensure people with stroke symptoms seek the lifesaving care they need without delay.”
The study compares patient data from February and March 2019 from twelve stroke centers across six states to patient data from February and March of this year. In total, the study includes 710 patients that presented acute ischemic stroke. During the coronavirus pandemic, stroke patients have been arriving at hospitals an average of 160 minutes later than usual.
Not only have patients been arriving later, but less patients are being treated for stroke than usual. Only 167 stroke cases were seen in these clinics, compared to 223 cases last year during the same period.
Neurointerventionalists with the Get Ahead of Stroke campaign warn of the dangers of strokes. In the most severe cases, emergent large vessel occlusions, up to two million neurons die each minute. (The brain has about 86 billion neurons.) The stroke has a more severe impact on patients the longer they wait to receive treatment. Patients can even become paralyzed for life if their stroke is not treated quickly enough.
Researchers from the Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery also address the economic burden incurred from delayed treatment. Every minute wasted before seeking care comes with an estimated cost of $1,000 for short-term and long-term care.
Taking these numbers into consideration, a 160-minute delay in seeking stroke treatment can lead to the loss of 320 million neurons and an added $160,000 in medical expenses.
“Stroke care teams across the country have implemented protocols to safeguard patients from COVID-19,” says Dr. Richard P. Klucznik, president of the Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery. “A stroke will not go away if you ignore it, and delaying treatment could eliminate your chance for recovery. It’s critical to pay attention to any symptoms of stroke and call 911 right away.”
The study is published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery.