Stroke Doesn't Stop for COVID-19: Remember to BE FAST and Seek Emergency Care

May 20, 2020

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, more people have hesitated to seek emergency care when they need it most. It’s important to remember that while other aspects of our lives have slowed, our bodies have not, and health complications, including stroke, can still arise when least expected.

Stroke is currently the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 800,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke every year, and every four minutes someone dies from a stroke.

The moment a stroke, or “brain attack,” begins – and blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off – thousands of brain cells start to die. How quickly you react helps determine the outcome. The longer you wait, the greater the likelihood for long-term physical and neurological damages, says Cheryl Griffith, MSN, RN, Stroke Program Coordinator at Jefferson Washington Township Hospital.

During and after this pandemic, it’s important to remember the age-old stroke rule, “time is brain,” adds Kathryn Donley, BSN, RN, CCRN-K, CNRN, Stroke Program Director. There are many treatment options available, but they’re time sensitive. “Please don’t delay seeking emergent medical attention out of fear of contracting COVID-19,” she says.

At all Jefferson Health locations, the necessary steps have been taken to ensure safety for both patients and providers, including universal masking, “low-touch” care, and visitor restrictions. (Learn more HERE.) Many patients that are currently hospitalized are non-COVID patients, and dedicated medical professionals continue to perform urgent and emergent procedures as needed.

If you or a loved one experience the symptoms of stroke, please call 9-1-1 to visit the nearest hospital. A helpful way to recognize the warning signs, which come on suddenly, is BE FAST.

  • Balance: loss of balance, headache, or dizziness
  • Eyes: visual changes/loss in one or both eyes
  • Face: drooping/weakness on one side of the face, causing an uneven smile
  • Arm: arm or leg weakness/numbness
  • Speech: difficulty speaking or slurred speech
  • Time: React as soon as you observe ANY of these signs.

If you have a brief episode of these symptoms, you may be experiencing a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini stroke, which can signal a larger impeding stroke or other serious neurological conditions. TIAs also warrant immediate medical attention.

You may be at a higher risk for stroke if have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, irregular heartbeat, or a history of smoking – most of which can be managed, explains Donley. However, there are also contributing factors out of our control; they include age, sex (women face a higher risk), race (African Americans face a higher risk), or personal/family history.  

Various lifestyle changes may help lower your risk for stroke. The American Heart Association recommends the following: stop smoking, follow a healthier diet, increase your physical activity, lose weight, and improve your blood pressure and cholesterol.

When seconds count, you want a team of qualified experts on your side. Jefferson Health New Jersey’s Stratford and Cherry Hill Hospitals are State-designated, Joint Commission Certified Primary Stroke Centers that ensure high-level care. Additionally, Washington Township Hospital is a State-designated Comprehensive Stroke Center and Joint Commission Certified Advanced Thrombectomy-Capable Stroke Center (TSC)

It’s understandable to be anxious about receiving medical care during this time of uncertainty, but when your health declines, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. We are here for you. Don’t be a silent victim of stroke – BE FAST.

To learn more about Stroke and the Neuroscience Center at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, click HERE.