People must not delay seeking medical attention for stroke due to fears around rising COVID-19 rates, The Stroke Association has warned.
Following a significant drop in stroke admissions during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, concerns are now mounting that a similar situation will occur due to fear around the Omicron variant.
The Stroke Association’s Recoveries at Risk report found the drop in admissions last year was due to patient worries over catching COVID-19 or being a burden on the NHS. Nearly a third – 32 per cent – of people who survived a stroke between March and June 2020 admitted they delayed seeking medical attention due to COVID-19.
This year, with the added impact of reported ambulance delays, this is likely to intensify feelings of being a burden on the NHS, causing people to delay seeking medical treatment.
To add to this potential crisis, new data shows that this year, more people are living with unmanaged hypertension and other major stroke risk factors due to fewer regular in-person appointments where cardiovascular conditions, like high blood pressure, are spotted.
Hypertension is the biggest risk factor for stroke, contributing to 55.4 per cent of stroke cases. This means that the stroke rate could rise this Christmas as more people live with unmanaged hypertension than in previous years.
In the UK there are over 100,000 strokes per year and 1.3million stroke survivors. Stroke is the UK’s fourth biggest killer and the leading cause of adult disability.
Juliet Bouverie, chief executive of The Stroke Association, said: “When COVID cases rise as quickly as they are doing now, that sets off alarm bells at our charity and everyone involved in the treatment of stroke.
“More Omicron cases is likely to mean more preventable deaths and disability due to stroke, as people delay seeking emergency medical attention.
“We know that people get scared to go to hospital when cases rise but stroke is a life-threatening condition. Fear of catching COVID and feeling like a burden on the NHS stopped people calling 999 in the past. This is likely to be even worse this Christmas due to the news about ambulance delays.
“Stroke is an emergency medical condition and should be treated as an emergency from the moment you ring 999.
“After nearly two years in the pandemic we know that many people haven’t had their high blood pressure diagnosed because there haven’t been as many regular, in-person appointments with medical professionals such as GPs.
“That means more people are living with undetected high blood pressure and are at high risk of stroke. As a result, we could see even more people having a stroke this Christmas than in previous years.
“Stroke clinicians and nurses as well as paramedics and therapists have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to maintain stroke services. Everyone at our charity is thankful for their hard work and support.”
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