Strokes have always been considered medical emergencies, and their long-lasting physical and mental consequences have been well-documented. However, it can be difficult for stroke patients to navigate their symptoms, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This May marked Stroke Awareness Month, and Yale’s message remains steadfast: control stroke risk factors ahead of time, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Stroke is often exacerbated by several underlying conditions, and managing them is crucial to reducing risk.
In a recent Facebook Live panel on stroke awareness, Dr. Joseph Schindler, Director of Yale New Haven Comprehensive Stroke Center, said, “We’ve seen patients that have increased risk in stroke also have lots of comorbidities, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.”
Dr. Adam Jasne, Assistant Professor of Neurology, added that hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, smoking, and atrial fibrillation are also risk factors.
Such comorbidities place massive pressure on the blood vessels that carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the brain. Stroke occurs when these vessels burst or are blocked, preventing blood from reaching the brain and causing brain cell death.
Stroke has also been linked to COVID-19 in recent months, although further studies need to be conducted to prove a distinct relation.
According to Dr. Jasne, managing overall stress levels related to the pandemic may help to prevent stroke. Dr. Schindler also noted that there is a possible connection between COVID-19 and clotting, but that data is inconclusive.
“In the meantime,” Dr. Jasne writes, “Stroke Awareness Month is the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves, our patients, and our friends…of the BE FAST mnemonic [for recognizing stroke symptoms]: Balance trouble; Eye issues; Facial weakness; Arm weakness; Speech or language trouble; Thunderclap headache…”
Any of these symptoms can be signs of stroke. Although Drs. Jasne and Schindler acknowledge patients’ hesitancy to enter hospitals or rehabilitation facilities due to fear of COVID-19, the sooner the treatment, the better the outcome. The window for treatment of stroke is very limited, and the acute rehab period is crucial to recovery. Therefore, patients should immediately seek treatment if they experience any of the BE FAST symptoms.
Armed with this knowledge, it is Yale’s hope that patients remain proactive regarding their health and have a clear plan of action if they experience stroke symptoms. Stroke can be daunting and confusing, but Yale is well positioned to make the path to recovery a little clearer.