Preventing stroke during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Wan Kim Sui (our Doctor of Public Health candidate), Professor Dr Noran Naqiah Hairi and Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming wrote to the media stressing the needs to prevent stroke during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was published in the Star newspaper.

In 2018, stroke was the third leading cause of mortality in Malaysia after heart disease and pneumonia. Yet, at least half of all strokes are potentially preventable with appropriate awareness and prevention.

High proportions of people with diabetes, hypertension, or dyslipidaemia have uncontrolled glycated haemoglobin A1C (reflects blood glucose control over three months), blood pressure, or LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol) – also known as “ABC”. The shortfall in achieving these ABC goals represents an avoidable burden of complications, including death.

COVID-19 is a double blow for patients with NCDs. Data show that COVID-19-related deaths were disproportionately higher among them. The suboptimal ABC control is expected to worsen by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which may disrupt clinic follow-up or treatment adherence among patients with NCDs. Globally, a decline in stroke admission is currently observed. Patients with mild symptoms may choose not to go to hospitals for evaluation due to the fear of exposure to COVID-19 infection.

However, people experiencing sudden symptoms like balance difficulties, eyesight changes, facial weakness, arm weakness, and speech difficulties should immediately get help in a timely manner – “BE FAST”. Time is critical as treatment within the Golden Hour of sixty minutes leads to better stroke outcomes.

Hence, the two take-home messages for all are: 1. adhere to the prescribed treatment regimen and do not stop medications without doctor’s advice and 2. seek medical attention immediately if symptoms of stroke develop, even during this current pandemic. Remember, BE FAST.

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