RICHMOND, Va. -- When someone is experiencing a stroke, every minute that passes could mean the difference between life and death, but a doctor at VCU Health said since the COVID-19 outbreak began, they've seen a decrease in stroke patients.
Doctor Daniel Falcao, Interim Director for the Comprehensive Stroke Center at VCU, said strokes are one of the leading causes of death in the nation-- impacting 795,000 Americans every year. But Falcao said since the COVID-19 outbreak began, doctors at VCU have noticed a decrease of about 37 percent of their stroke population that typically shows up to the hospital.
Falcao believes that's, in part, due to the fear of getting infected by COVID-19. He said that fear can be problematic if it keeps people from seeking the help they need.
"My fear is if someone has a weakness of the arm or slurred speech, that person will not come to the ER and waits for days and those symptoms, they can definitely worsen. And by the time the patient comes here, it’s too late to care for them acutely," said Dr. Falcao.
Falcao said every minute that someone has a stroke go untreated, it's estimated that 1.8 million neurons die -- which can lead to disability and eventually death.
He said risk factors for having a stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or obesity. One of the biggest risk factors, he said, is if you've already had a stroke, you're much more likely to have another one.
Dr. Falcao recommends anyone who may be at risk to continue to keep in touch with their primary care physician, and keep having visits -- even if its telehealth visits. He said about 80 percent of strokes are preventable.
He also urged patients not to be afraid to come to the hospital, especially when experiencing symptoms of a stroke.
"Patients are not coming because they're fearful of being contaminated by COVID," said Dr. Falcao. "And here at VCU, I can reassure you that we have changed out protocols to adapt to the COVID outbreak -- to maintain both health care providers and patient populations safety. So you can receive your effective and safe care for sure."
Dr. Falcao warned that some people, especially the elderly, may not be as aware of subtle symptoms that may arise-- especially while they stay home and distance themselves from others. He recommended checking on your loved ones.
Symptoms of a stroke can be identified through the acronym FAST. It stands for facial droop, arm weakness, slurred speech, and time (do not delay).
Anyone with symptoms should call 911 and seek treatment immediately.