COVID-19: What a stroke specialist wants you to know

6 tips to help you protect your health
Dr. Richard H. Swartz

Dr. Richard H. Swartz is a stroke neurologist in Toronto.

If you’ve had a stroke in the past, or you’re at risk, you may be extra worried about your health right now. Can busy emergency departments care for stroke patients? Does this novel coronavirus more seriously affect people who’ve had strokes?

Dr. Richard H.Swartz, a stroke neurologist with Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centres in Toronto, shares his insights into how to best care for yourself at this difficult time.

Stroke is a medical emergency. If you experience any signs of stroke — facial droop, weakness on one side, you can’t lift both arms, slurred or jumbled speech — call 9-1-1. Don’t hesitate. COVID-19 is not a reason to avoid seeking treatment for stroke. Even if your symptoms go away, you need medical care to reduce the chances of another, larger stroke. Dedicated stroke professionals are on duty in hospitals to help you. They know how to protect stroke patients from the virus.

Take your medications. Preventing a stroke is more important than ever. Make sure you have enough medications for a few weeks at a time, but don’t stockpile. If you’re having trouble affording your medications, talk to your physician and pharmacist. There may be generic options or substitutions that could help you.

COVID-19 is not a reason to avoid seeking treatment for stroke.

Dr. Richard H. Swartz Stroke neurologist

Focus on healthy living. This is a good time to practice lifestyle prevention. Stop smoking if you still smoke. We have programs that can help you. Get regular exercise and use this time to cook healthy meals at home. These actions can go a long way to preventing strokes.

Have a strategy in case you get sick. Think about how you would get medical care and support. Is your family physician’s office offering virtual or telephone visits? If not, what alternatives are available? Maybe you can call a virtual walk-in clinic. Make sure you have the technology to access these services, or that someone in your circle can help you. In many provinces, 2-1-1 services are a good way to connect to community services and supports; you can dial 2-1-1 or search it online.

Consider home rehabilitation — with help. Some stroke rehabilitation can be done at home or with remote support. Make sure you are doing it safely, ideally in consultation with your rehabilitation team. We don't want people falling or getting injured.

Follow your doctor’s advice. Some patients are asking, “Can my tests wait or do I need to have them now?” And the truth is some tests can wait and some can't. Check with your doctor to decide what could be cancelled or delayed and what should happen now. I also have patients asking if COVID-19 affects their risk of having another stroke. We simply don’t know yet. If you hear news about COVID-19 and stroke that worries you, contact your physician. They can help you sort out the information so you can stay informed and healthy.  Regular thorough handwashing and physical distancing continue to be key strategies for everyone to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.


COVID-19 makes our fight more urgent than ever

Donate now to help those at greater risk.