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Mild stroke patients avoiding vital hospital treatment, researchers warn

Stroke patients who should be calling an ambulance appear to have stayed at home during the Covid-19 outbreak, according to an analysis by researchers who urged anyone who thinks they may be having a stroke – regardless of symptom severity – to get hospital treatment.

The findings were published in a letter to the Journal of Neurology from a UCLH and UCL team led by Dr Richard Perry and Dr Robert Simister, which sought to understand why stroke admissions have fallen at centres around the world during the pandemic.

There have been two main theories for the decline: that there has been a fall in the number of strokes – perhaps due to reduced strain while people are not at work or lower levels of pollution – or that a lower proportion of patients have found their way into stroke centres.

Looking at admissions to the Hyperacute Stroke Unit at UCLH, researchers found the decline in the number of patients admitted with mild strokes was far more dramatic than was seen for moderate or severe stroke.

Researchers said that any fall in the true incidence of stroke would be unlikely to be so strongly biased towards mild strokes, suggesting that it is more likely that patients with mild strokes were choosing to stay away.

They warned that without treatment 10% of patients who have a mild stroke will have a recurrent stroke within a week, and conclude their letter by saying: “The public health message is clear: individuals who think that they may be having a stroke, regardless of symptom severity, are much better off calling for an ambulance than staying at home.”

Read the full letter in the Journal of Neurology.