Stroke prevention month: The link between strokes and COVID-19

Stoke awareness graphic
Stoke awareness graphic(Courtesy WMC)
Updated: May. 31, 2021 at 10:58 AM CDT
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CASPER, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - May is stroke prevention month and Wyoming News Now met with Dr. David Wheeler a neurologist at Wyoming Medical Center, about the links between COVID-19 and strokes.

What was one thing you noticed at the beginning of the outbreak of COVID-19?

“One thing that we notice early on during the pandemic is that many fewer patients were coming to the hospital with strokes or heart attacks. What what the data is telling us is not that there were fewer strokes and heart attacks but those people were actually experiencing their strokes and heart attacks at home and not coming to the hospital. Many people who died of COVID-19 in their homes were dying because of strokes and heart attacks caused by COVID-19. What we’ve learned about COVID-19 is that the immune response your body’s response to the virus itself is quite complicated. There’s a lot of inflammation that happens and this can have really serious effects on the body including causing our bodies to clot more easily so our blood in our arteries and veins somehow gets thicker or stickier and blood clots can form and this can cause all sorts of complications including strokes In the more recent months we’ve been seeing a significant increase in the number of strokes happening especially in younger people who either have or who have recently survived COVID-19,” Wheeler said.

Did people neglect coming to the doctor during the pandemic?

“Yes, we think so. Especially in the earlier months when there were a lot of shutdowns and lockdowns there was some fear people seem to have a lot of fear about coming to the hospital. I think the impression was out there that coming to the ER was more dangerous than staying at home even if you’re really really sick. When we noticed that there was a dramatic decrease in the number of people presenting to our ERs not just here but around the world with strokes and heart attacks and other problems like that we started really pushing out the message that it was still safe and appropriate to come to the ER if you were having signs and symptoms of a stroke. We saw pretty quickly that people began to respond to that so they became more comfortable with the idea that the hospital was still a safe place to get care and we saw a return to the normal level of folks coming in with strokes and heart attacks by about mid-summer of last year,” Wheeler said.

Do the lifestyle changes of quarantine affect the risk of a stroke?

“Yes, we are seeing more problems related to the things that put you at risk for stroke so obesity, smoking and excessive usage of alcohol are lot of changes in lifestyle and behavior that happened to people who were kinda stuck in their homes more and had less social interaction with people. They also may be weren’t seeking exercise opportunities as much and so we are beginning to see the effect of that more sedentary lifestyle and less healthy lifestyle decision making is now leading to a fairly steady increase in the risk of stroke and heart attack,” Wheeler said.

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