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Stroke, heart attack patients not seeking timely care

CHEYENNE - Nationwide, there's been a decrease in the number of people seeking timely treatment for heart attacks and strokes, and the trend is being seen locally at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

There's about a 40% reduction in stroke and heart attack patients coming to hospitals nationwide, according to a Medscape article.

Dr. Jessica Hughes, CRMC Emergency Department medical director, said the ER has seen about a 50% decrease in patients overall, including a 40% reduction in stroke and heart attack patients.

The ER is used to seeing about 115 patients daily, but that number has dropped to 60 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hughes said. It's believed people aren't seeking the care they need out of fear of catching COVID-19, or taking up hospital space, according to Medscape.

"Delaying their essential care - ultimately, this is going to lead to a new public health crisis," Dr. Muhammad Khan said. "We want to convey the message that their life matters to us, if they are having a hard head. We know how to save their lives, and we can do it very rapidly and efficiently."

Khan is an interventionist cardiologist at CRMC and medical director of the cardiac catheterization lab. With medical emergencies like a heart attack, seeking timely treatment is extremely important. Khan said "time is muscle" when it comes to treating a heart attack.

Getting timely care for a heart attack is important because the more time passes, the more oxygen and blood supply isn't getting to the heart. And the longer the heart goes without those things, the more damage there is to the heart. This could increase the person's risk of further complications down the road, including death.

Symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, arm pain, a feeling like an elephant is sitting on the chest and other symptoms, Khan said.

Getting timely treatment for strokes is also important because "time is brain," said Hope Robinson, a registered nurse and CRMC Stroke Program manager. The sooner a stroke patient gets treatment, the faster health care providers can administer medications that can restore patients to full functions.

As with heart attacks, the longer a stroke patient goes without getting care, the increased likelihood that patient has for permanent complications and even death, Robinson said.

"What we're seeing here is people come in, they're just coming in several days after their symptoms start, which limits what we can do for some other treatment options that we have available to them," Robinson said.

There are two types of strokes, an ischemic stroke and a hemorrhagic stroke, Robinson said. An ischemic stroke is when there is a "clog in the pipe," meaning there is something in a person's blood vessel that is preventing blood from getting to the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke, which is a "burst in the pipe," is when a blood vessel hemorrhages and also prevents blood from getting to the brain.

Symptoms can be described with the acronym BE FAST, Robinson said, which stands for balance, eyesight, face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and time to call 911. If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, they may be experiencing a stroke and should seek medical attention immediately.

Hughes said the whole flow of the emergency department has changed since the pandemic. There are separate areas in the ER for non-coronavirus patients and those who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

The COVID-19 section of the ER is isolated from the rest of the department. This includes having negative pressure, air scrubbers and staff dedicated to those areas to prevent any COVID-19 contamination.

"So I think we've taken a lot of steps to help reduce any kind of exposure to people that do not have coronavirus symptoms," Hughes said. "I think people can be assured that when they come in that they're safe."

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