Specialists at NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (BNSSG CCG) are urging people not to hesitate to access health services at the first sign of a stroke during the coronavirus outbreak.
The number of people being referred to clinics for treatment for Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) or “mini stroke” has reduced significantly since social distancing measures were introduced in March.
Medical experts are concerned that people are avoiding hospitals due to the outbreak and not getting the urgent treatment they may need.
Dr Phil Simons, Clinical Lead for Stroke-Planned Care at BNSSG CCG said: “While everyone is being told to stay at home, it can be hard to know what to do if you’re unwell but it’s still important to get medical help if you need it. Please do not ignore TIA or stroke symptoms, even if you also have coronavirus symptoms as four out of five strokes can be prevented by starting the right treatment quickly.”
A TIA is caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain. This results in a lack of oxygen to the brain and can cause sudden symptoms similar to a stroke, such as speech and visual disturbance, and numbness or weakness in the face, arms and legs.
In the early stages of a TIA, it's not possible to tell whether you're having a TIA or a full stroke. It's important to call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance if you or someone else has symptoms of a TIA or stroke. Even if the symptoms disappear while you're waiting for an ambulance to arrive, you still need to be assessed in hospital.
Dr Simons said: “During the coronavirus lock down we have greatly increased our use of telephone and video consultations. After an emergency assessment, whether done by A&E or your GP, those with a possible TIA who have been referred to the hospital TIA clinic will receive a telephone or video call from a stroke specialist to decide whether they think it necessary to further attend hospital in person or not. If we think it best to come to hospital, usually for a brain scan, we will explain why we think this is necessary and you will be able to decide what you would like to do.”
Rebecca Sheehy, CEO of charity Bristol After Stroke added: “Stroke is a medical emergency and it is essential to call 999 immediately if you suspect you or someone else is having a stroke. The quicker you receive stroke treatment the better your chances of survival and recovery."
Anyone who may not have sought medical attention for symptoms of stroke is urged to contact their GP as soon as possible.
The main symptoms of a TIA can be remembered with the word FAST:
Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped.
Arms – the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them raised because of weakness or numbness in one arm.
Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all, despite appearing to be awake; they may also have problems understanding what you're saying to them.
Time – it's time to call 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.