Doctors warn against delaying emergency care for stroke as reports show connection to COVID-19

There is new research connecting stroke to COVID-19 in younger patients with no prior risk factors.
Updated: Apr. 24, 2020 at 12:21 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Healthcare workers are encouraging patients not to postpone emergency room visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the country, doctors are seeing a decrease in the amount of people coming to the ER for things like heart attack or stroke. However, doctors don’t believe the decrease is because fewer people are having strokes but because people are afraid to go to the hospital.

Kevin Early, 55, of Louisville, said he was hesitant to go the hospital last Monday when he had stroke symptoms.

“Woke up that morning with my right side of my body feeling numb and convinced myself that I had just slept wrong on it,” Early said.

Early manages a gas station and told WAVE 3 News that he already felt exposed to the novel coronavirus through work. According to Early, a trip to the ER only added to those fears.

“I feel so bad for nurses and doctors right now that I didn’t want to become another burden on them,” Early said.

He said he owes everything to immediate treatment and is urging others to do the same if necessary.

“Here it is 10 days later and I can already walk, I got my speech back within 24 hours because they acted so quickly,” Early said. “Please, please, please, if you think there’s something wrong, you are safe. Go to the ER.”

UofL Hospital Stroke Center director Dr. Kerri Remmel says Early’s story is not uncommon. However, she wants people to know they shouldn’t fear contracting COVID-19 in the hospital.

“We are following all of the important guidelines put out by the CDC. We use masks and gloves … we have telemedicine capabilities in our ERs. Every patients at UofL gets tested, so we know who has it,” Remmel explained.

Remmel also stressed seeing see a doctor immediately for medical emergencies like stroke.

“We are here and we are thrilled when patients can come in and we can care for you,” Remmel said.

Remmel said that some stroke patients have waited up to three days before seeking treatment. While UofL Hospital has seen a less than 10% decline in the presentation of stroke patients, Remmel said some hospitals across the country have reported as much as a 30% decline.

“Patients who waited started having swelling in the brain,” Remmel said. “So other areas of the brain are affected by that weren’t affected at the very beginning of the stroke. “

Remmel told WAVE 3 News that there is also new research connecting stroke to COVID-19 in younger patients with no prior risk factors. Remmel said her team has treated several patients with both conditions, explaining that blood clotting associated with the coronavirus could be at fault.

“They don’t have high blood pressure, they don’t have diabetes, they don’t have high cholesterol, yet they might be have a stroke,” Remmel said.

Remmel said anyone suffering a stroke or experiencing chest or stomach pain should seek immediate care even with hospitals working overtime.

“We want to reduce the deficits, improve the outcomes so people can get their lives back,” Remmel said.

The American Stroke Association describes face dropping, arm weakness and speech issues as early warning signs for stroke.

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