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Stroke: Don't Wait Until it's Too Late

Stroke: Don't Wait Until it's Too Late

Every 40 seconds someone has a stroke or a heart attack – adding up to more than 1.5 million people affected. But in recent weeks hospitals have seen very few stroke and heart attack patients come rolling through the doors of the emergency department -- and COVID-19 is the likely the culprit.

The fear of exposure to COVID-19 seems to be keeping people away from hospitals, even in emergency situations. Patients may be unwilling to call 911 because they believe hospitals are overwhelmed by coronavirus cases, or they are worried about contracting the virus.

But putting off medical care in these situations can be a matter of life or death. Heart attack and stroke are both potentially life-threatening conditions that can cause permanent damage to important organs, affecting quality of life. About 17% of people suffer a fatal stroke each year, and 14% of people who have a heart attack will die from it.

There’s growing evidence that a COVID-19 infection can cause the blood to clot unnaturally. Blood clots form when certain blood components thicken into a jelly-like mass. They can be life-threatening if they move to parts of the body like the heart, the lungs or the brain. Still, it's unknown whether the coronavirus itself causes blood clots or if the damage to blood vessels and blood cells is a result of body's massive inflammatory response to fight the virus.

Stroke symptoms include sudden loss of balance and/or eyesight, facial weakness or numbness, arm/leg weakness or numbness, clumsiness, speech disturbance, or terrible headache. If you think you or your loved one is having a stroke, there are treatments that reduce the chance of disability and dependency – but these treatments are time sensitive and become less effective with each passing minute.

The Louisiana Emergency Response Network (LERN) encourages anyone experiencing symptoms of heart attack or stroke to get care immediately.

“Our emergency services are prepared to respond to your call and our hospitals are prepared to rapidly provide the care you need,” urges LERN’s Stroke System medical director, Sheryl Martin-Schild, M.D. “Do not compromise your forever function due to fears of being in the hospital. Every minute matters.”