‘Patients still need to be looked after’: Lethbridge stroke specialist sounds the alarm

LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. — Dr. Toni Winder is a neurologist who has spent more than 20 years as the director of the Chinook Region Stroke Prevention Clinic.

Over the course of the pandemic, he’s been noticing an alarming number of people waiting too long before seeking medical attention after experiencing early stroke symptoms.

“If you don’t get in early enough, if you come in a day late or if you come in a week late, it’s just too late,” he said.

“It has to be within under four hours. You have to get in quickly to be properly treated.”

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), also called mini-stroke, is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain which is often ignored because it doesn’t cause permanent damage.

“A lot of people will have a spell and it’ll clear up, and they kind of shrug it off and say ‘well I’m not going to do anything about it until somebody finds out,” said Dr. Winder.

“Those are the one where, if you don’t catch them early enough, they’re at high risk for a big stroke.”

One in three people who have a TIA will suffer a full-blown, detrimental stroke with in three months.

Dr. Winder attributes the reluctance to seek prompt medical attention not only to TIA cases, but also to patients’ concerns that hospitals are unsafe and riddled with COVID-19.

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“Patients need to know that it’s safe to go to the hospital. If you have a TIA or a stroke, you should get in right away. That’s the most important message. Patients still need to be looked after.” Said Dr. Winder

Warning signs of stroke include:

*  Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body

*  Speech issues or confusion

*  Vision problems in one or both eyes

*  Dizziness, trouble walking or sudden loss of balance

*  Severe out of the blue headache

Dr. Winder said in 2018 roughly 30 per cent of stroke patients in southern Alberta were able to see a doctor within four hours after the onset of symptoms making them eligible for the most effective treatment and prevention methods.

In 2019, that number dropped down to roughly 20 percent and it seems as though things are trending in the wrong direction.

“We’re just crunching the numbers right now in our region, but it’s probably the same across North America. Because of COVID, the numbers are going down lower,” said Dr. Winder.

“What we’re seeing in 2020 is probably that number is going to end up being less than 15 per cent of patients who are getting in early enough.”

Southern Alberta is on track to see between 450 and 460 stroke or TIA patients this year.

There is a vital three to four hour window after a stroke where treatment is most effective.

A person also loses roughly two million nerve cells for every minute they don’t receive medical treatment during a stroke.

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