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Stroke patients are arriving at hospitals and treatment centers an average of more than two hours later than they should amid the coronavirus pandemic, new research reveals, imperiling their chance of survival.

A study published today in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery (JNIS) shows ischemic stroke patients are arriving to hospitals and treatment centers an average of 160 minutes later during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with a similar timeframe in 2019.

Scientists assessed 710 patients presenting with acute ischemic strokes at 12 stroke centers across six states. It compared the period of February and March 2019 (the baseline period) to February 2020 (the “pre-COVID-19” period) and March 2020 (the “COVID-19” period).

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A new study examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on stroke patients' arrival time to hospitals.

A new study examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on stroke patients’ arrival time to hospitals.
(iStock)

“When it comes to stroke treatment, every minute counts. My colleagues and I have been devastated to see patients arriving at the hospital too late for us to help them,” the study’s lead author, Clemens Schirmer, who is based at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., said in a statement.

“Our findings indicate a dire need for public education to address COVID-19 related fears to ensure people with stroke symptoms seek the lifesaving care they need without delay,” he added.

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Researchers also discovered a significant decrease in overall reported stroke patients, from 223 to 167, in these same treatment centers from February to March 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts affiliated with the Get Ahead of Stroke campaign have said that with serious strokes, up to two million brain cells die each minute, therefore time is crucial. The longer patients wait before treatment, the greater the impact the stroke will have — potentially paralyzing them for life, or worse.

“Stroke care teams across the country have implemented protocols to safeguard patients from COVID-19,” said Dr. Richard P. Klucznik, president of SNIS. “A stroke will not go away if you ignore it, and delaying treatment could eliminate your chance for recovery. It’s critical to pay attention to any symptoms of stroke and call 911 right away.”

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According to researchers, for every minute lost, there’s an associated cost of $1,000 for short- and long-term care. A 160-minute delay would result in $160,000 in additional medical costs.

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