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Guest Opinion: Strokes and COVID-19

Viral infections and their connection with strokes

Recent newscasts and information from various medical facilities are saying there is an indication that strokes may occur in people with COVID-19. Certainly this is a concern as we move through the pandemic. What should you know about stroke and COVID-19?

  • Stroke Awareness Oregon

According to Dr. Steve Goins, Neurohospitalist at St. Charles Health Care and Co-founder of Stroke Awareness Oregon, “We know that infections can cause blood clotting probably due to toxins from either the virus or toxins released by the body in an effort to fight the infection. This is not new and occurs in other viral infections, for example meningococcus where people bleed and clot at the same time. This is an illustration of how some viral infections work. Regarding the COVID-19 virus, we do not yet understand exactly what that mechanism is.

“A neurosurgeon in New York reported seeing a number of young people with COVID-19 experiencing ischemic strokes. Oddly, as soon as the clot retrieval treatment was finished, more clots formed on the other side of the brain. This indicates something is happening inside the veins and arteries, perhaps damage to the lining caused by the virus. Neurologists know you have to have healthy linings to prevent clotting. Something is going on in the interior which is why we’re seeing thrombosis and we don’t yet understand the process with COVID-19.” Dr. Goins further states that taking aspirin is unlikely to prevent a COVID-19 stroke.

Though medical professionals have a limited understanding about strokes related to COVID-19, there are some important things we do know about strokes, not related to the virus. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in Oregon and the leading cause of disability, globally. There are two primary types of stroke, ischemic and hemorrhagic. Eighty percent of strokes are ischemic meaning a clot has lodged in the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are bleeding into the brain. New medical advances in the treatment of stroke are saving more lives and decreasing disabilities but only IF a stroke sufferer reaches medical treatment as soon as possible. That is one of the reasons Stroke Awareness Oregon exists; to teach everyone about the life-saving acronym called F.A.S.T.

F.A.S.T. outlines symptoms of a person a having a stroke and the importance of calling 9-1-1 NOW.

F stands for Face drooping, A stands for Arm or one side weakness, S stands for Speech that is garbled or unintelligible, and T represents Time to call 9-1-1. Other indicators may be balance issues, vision problems, headache or nausea. It is the hope of Stroke Awareness Oregon that F.A.S.T. will become a household safety word throughout Central Oregon.

Here’s why immediate medical intervention when suffering a stroke is critical. For every one minute the brain is without oxygen, two million brain cells perish. Oftentimes those experiencing stroke symptoms do not recognize something is wrong and tell themselves they will feel better later. Family members may not know the F.A.S.T. signs and allow their loved one to simply “sleep it off.” But later is not better. Most of the treatments for stroke are only available for the first three or four hours to be effective. Waiting can mean the difference between life and death. Waiting can mean the difference between walking and spending years in a wheelchair.

At the first signs of a stroke (F.A.S.T.), someone should call 9-1-1 immediately. Paramedics are trained to recognize stroke and St. Charles Health System has some of the best stroke protocols in place, even compared to large metropolitan cities. Upon arrival at the hospital ER, a stroke sufferer can expect to be evaluated by emergency room physicians. Various assessment procedures will be put in place and—as soon as possible—a diagnosis and treatment will be determined. Those experiencing a hemorrhagic stroke may need surgical repair. Those experiencing an ischemic stroke or clot in the brain may receive a clot-busting drug via IV or clot retrieval procedure may also be employed as determined by their physician.

One other word about obtaining immediate medical attention if someone is showing signs of F.A.S.T.: During this difficult pandemic time, DO NOT hesitate to call 9-1-1. Delaying is deadly.

  • Stroke Awareness Oregon
  • Carol Stiles
May is National Stroke Awareness Month and the team at Stroke Awareness Oregon asks each reader to help get out the word about F.A.S.T. If you know a stroke survivor, especially during this time of social isolation, let them know they are not alone. The stroke support groups are now virtual and everyone is welcome. If you are looking for a way to spend some of your stimulus money, you can help Stroke Awareness Oregon continue this life-saving work through a donation.


Carol Stiles
Executive Director

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