The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our society. The economy has ground to a halt, social distancing has become the new normal and we’ve had to find new ways to stay connected. This crisis has also strained the health care system like we’ve never seen before, according to a recent article published in U.S. Health News.

Fortunately, we have amazing first responders and health care teams who have risen to the challenge, saving lives against all odds and providing comfort to those who unfortunately succumb. They are all heroes and are to be celebrated

COVID-19 symptoms like breathing problems and fevers have gotten a lot of attention. But as our experience treating patients with this virus grows, we’re seeing different manifestations in other areas of the body. Of interest to those of us who treat the brain, it seems the virus has a particular affinity for the nervous system. In fact, the issues with severe breathing problems may be related to respiratory centers in the brain being impacted and decreasing the drive to breath properly. There are also emerging reports of direct infection in the brain in a few patients, which we’re working hard to understand better. 

We also know that stroke and heart attack can happen at a higher rate in people with respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Neurologists and other health care providers need to be aware of these potential issues, so we can recognize and optimize COVID-19 patients’ treatment if these problems arise. 

Rightfully, focus has primarily been placed on COVID-19. However, we must also be mindful and ensure that other health emergencies are not neglected in the present environment. A curious finding has been noticed around the world during the pandemic. Heath emergencies, including strokes and heart attacks, have not been seen in large numbers in the emergency departments and hospitals. It appears unlikely that there are less strokes and heart attacks occurring; rather, it’s more likely that people are avoiding emergency departments and hospitals. This is supported by findings in many areas that people are presenting late, potentially days after their symptoms begin. Additionally, first responders are finding an increased number of people deceased in their homes. 

It’s quite concerning that patients, especially those with milder symptoms, may not be seeking medical attention. This may be related to fear of getting exposed to the coronavirus, or a perception that the emergency departments are overrun and cannot help them. This is absolutely not the case. It’s important to remember the best place for someone with a critical health emergency is the emergency department. These facilities have prepared well and have protocols in place to ensure proper care is delivered while maintaining excellent precautions against COVID-19, protecting both patients and health care workers.

These critical health emergencies are time dependent, especially stroke. For every minute a stroke is untreated, an additional 1.9 million neurons or brain cells are lost. There are very effective, life- and disability-saving procedures that can be performed. But these are only an option soon after the start of a stroke. If someone arrives too late, this opportunity is lost. 

It’s also important to remember that even if symptoms are mild, one-third of these patients are either dead or severely disabled. For these reasons, it’s essential for patients to know the symptoms and call 911 immediately so they can receive the proper work-up and treatment. 

We ask people to remember the acronym BE FAST, which is an easy way to stay aware of the warning signs of stroke:

B – Balance difficulty.

– Eyes or vision disturbance.

– Face droopiness.

– Arm (or leg) weakness.

S – Speaking difficulty.

– Time to call 911.

Severe intense headache (think: the worst headache of your life) or losing consciousness can also be indicative of an emergency neurological problem. 

Heart attack symptoms include: 

  • Chest pain.
  • Left arm or shoulder pain.
  • Jaw pain.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Shortness of breath. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique situation and challenged health care – but doctors and hospitals have embraced and responded to the challenge. Be sure to socially distance, wear a mask, wash your hands and, if you need medical attention, don’t hesitate to seek it.

Source: U.S. Health News