Dr. Ameer Hassan, head of the neuroscience department at Valley Baptist Medical Center, is seen with a colleague in the catheterization lab. Hassan said COVID-19 is attacking more younger people, causing an increased risk of stroke. (Courtesy Photo/Valley Baptist Medical Center)

HARLINGEN – The stroke incidents keep increasing, but the hospital visits keep falling.

Since the COVID pandemic struck several months ago, hospitals have seen fewer stroke cases. However, that doesn’t mean fewer people are having strokes. Quite the contrary, says Dr. Ameer Hassan, head of the neuroscience department at Valley Baptist Medical Center.

“It’s actually because people are staying home,” Hassan said.

People are avoiding a trip to the hospital for fear they’ll contract COVID. This after Hassan and other medical professionals have repeatedly emphasized the thorough safety measures in place to prevent infection. And yet, even those with symptoms of heart attack or stroke often decline medical treatment at local hospitals.

“Too many young people are getting stroke and they’re coming in obviously with severe disabilities which they’re going to have to live with the rest of their lives,” Hassan said. “If they came in early they could easily have been treated.”

Hassan said several recent papers show COVID is attacking more younger people, and it’s causing an increased incidence of stroke in those patients.

“COVID does cause coagulopathy, which is thickening of the blood,” Hassan said. “It’s leading to more stroke, more heart attack, more pulmonary embolism, more blood clots in the legs. The average age of stroke patients coming in to hospitals all across the country has gone down significantly.”

Older COVID patients are dying at home. The deaths are being attributed to COVID but officials don’t always relate those deaths to stroke. So the medical profession doesn’t know how many older COVID patients actually die of stroke. Hospitals only see the fewer numbers of older people coming in with that condition.

COVID patients with stroke symptoms should come to the hospital immediately, because physicians have found new treatments that can prevent permanent damage.

“To prevent them from having a stroke or pulmonary embolism or heart attack in the hospital, we are starting these patients now on blood thinners and steroids,” Hassan said. “There’s good data showing that steroids help these patients from getting worse.”

Dr. Ameer Hassan, head of the neuroscience department at Valley Baptist Medical Center, is seen with a colleague in the catheterization lab. Hassan said COVID-19 is attacking more younger people, causing an increased risk of stroke. (Courtesy Photo/Valley Baptist Medical Center)

He pointed out again the importance of COVID patients with stroke symptoms coming to the hospital immediately, and the tragic consequences of failure to do so.

“If you’re having a stroke, come into the hospital,” he said. “You’re not going to get COVID 19 at the hospital. But if you don’t get treatment for stroke you’re going to live with a severe disability or be dead.”