Two major stroke research studies at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health report concerning findings that people who experienced a stroke during Covid-19 delayed attending hospital.
Early treatment is associated with reduced disability and fewer complications say the researchers who are urging people this National Stroke Week to remain vigilant in seeking medical care for suspected stroke and to think F.A.S.T (Face, Arms, Speech, Time).
The warning comes from researchers involved in the Australian Stroke Clinical Registry, which has been providing a real-time snapshot of national stroke care for over a decade.
Led out of the Florey Institute, the registry collects key data from hospitals around the country from the first presentation in hospital through to patient outcomes obtained between three to six months.
In 2020, when the world was hit by Covid-19, the registry began monitoring the impacts of the pandemic on stroke care.
Data collected from Australian hospitals in a survey between January to June 2020, painted a concerning picture of heavily affected acute stroke care and services.
As case numbers of Covid-19 in Australia rose, around half of hospitals reported fewer people presenting to hospital with suspected stroke.
Of the people who did present to hospital, data showed many had delayed seeking medical care after the onset of stroke, particularly for cases of mild stroke or where symptoms were fleeting.
Within hospital settings, the impact of the pandemic continued. Around one-quarter of hospitals reported that stroke units had been moved or temporarily reduced in size and specialist staff deployed to other duties.
“The biggest barrier to receiving life-saving stroke treatments is delaying going to hospital. We see through our research that early intervention achieves a significantly better outcome for people, including reducing the risk of disability or dying.
“If you or someone else experiences any of the signs of stroke, such as arm weakness, facial droop on one side or slurred speech, don’t let anything stop you from going to hospital. Act fast and call 000,” says The Florey Institute’s Professor Dominique Cadilhac.
Professor Julie Bernhardt AM, Co-Head of Stroke Research at the Florey Institute, leads the study and says data provided by international hospitals showed reduced numbers of patients presenting to hospital with suspected stroke.
“We saw enormous disruption to stroke services across the board in 2020 and received on-the-ground hospital insight that people experiencing stroke were delaying coming to hospital to receive the appropriate care.
“Encouragingly, our research shows this is now improving compared to earlier in the pandemic,” says Professor Bernhardt.
“My message during National Stroke Week is clear – think F.A.S.T. Know the signs of stroke to look out for and call an ambulance straight away to seek treatment at hospital.”
For more information on how to recognise symptoms of stroke, visit the Stroke Foundation’s website or call Stroke Line on 1800 787 653.