Global decline in stroke care during pandemic
Results showed a global decline in the number of stroke patients admitted to the hospital as well as acute stroke treatments, such as thrombolysis, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers found that there were 91,373 stroke admissions in the 4 months immediately before the pandemic, compared with 80,894 admissions during the first 4 pandemic months, representing an 11.5% decline.
They also report that 13,334 stroke patients received intravenous thrombolysis in the 4 months preceding the pandemic, compared with 11,570 during the first 4 pandemic months, representing a 13.2% drop.
Interhospital transfers after thrombolysis for a higher level of stroke care decreased from 1,337 before the pandemic to 1,178 during the pandemic, a reduction of 11.9%.
There were greater declines in primary compared with comprehensive stroke centers for stroke hospitalizations (change, –17.3% vs. –10.3%) and for the number of patients receiving thrombolysis (change, –15.5% vs. –12.6%).
The volume of stroke hospitalizations increased by 9.5% in the two later pandemic months (May, June) versus the two earlier months (March, April), with greater recovery in hospitals with lower COVID-19 hospitalization volume, high-volume stroke centers, and comprehensive stroke centers.
Dr. Nguyen suggested that reasons for the reductions in these stroke numbers at the beginning of the pandemic could include a reduction in stroke risk due to a reduction of exposure to other viral infections or patients not presenting to the hospital for fear of contracting the coronavirus.
The higher recovery of stroke volume in high-volume stroke centers and comprehensive stroke centers may represent patients with higher needs – those having more severe strokes – seeking care more frequently than those with milder symptoms, she noted.
“Preserving access to stroke care and emergency stroke care amidst a pandemic is as important as educating patients on the importance of presenting to the hospital in the event of stroke-like symptoms,” Dr. Nguyen concluded.
“We continue to advocate that if a patient has stroke-like symptoms, such as loss of speech, strength, vision, or balance, it is important for the patient to seek medical care as an emergency, as there are treatments that can improve a patient’s ability to recover from disabling stroke in earlier rather than later time windows,” she added.
In the publication, the authors wrote, “Our results concur with other recent reports on the collateral effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on stroke systems of care,” but added that “this is among the first descriptions of the change at a global level, including primary and comprehensive stroke centers.”
They said that hospital access related to high COVID-19 burden was unlikely a factor because the decline was seen in centers with a few or no patients with COVID-19. They suggested that patient fear of contracting coronavirus may have played a role, along with a decrease in presentation of transient ischemic attacks, mild strokes, or moderate strokes, and physical distancing measures may have prevented the timely witnessing of a stroke.
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