Doha, 17 November, 2020: Despite the emergence of COVID-19 in Qatar, Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Stroke Service has continued to provide safe and effective care for all patients with a confirmed or suspected stroke. Since the start of the year, more than 1,800 patients have been admitted to Hamad General Hospital’s Stroke Service, with approximately 1,200 of these diagnosed with a confirmed stroke and 600 experiencing mimic strokes.
Stroke is one of the leading causes of mortality and the number one cause of chronic disability in the world. Due to the high prevalence in Qatar’s population of many risk factors for stroke – including diabetes, smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, and inactivity – the incidence of stroke is high.
“I am proud of how teams across the entire Stroke Service have responded to this unprecedented pandemic, including the Stroke Team and Stroke Unit, Emergency Department, neuroradiology, internal medical, and stroke multidisciplinary teams,” said Dr. Ahmed Own, Head of the HMC’s Neuroscience Institute.
“Over the past decade, the Stroke Service at HMC has made significant improvements in the way in which it delivers care to patients. The service has twice received accreditation from the Joint Commission International, endorsing the quality and safety of care it provides. Additionally, we have introduced multiple new units and services, including a new Stroke Unit in 2014, a Neuroangiography Imaging Suite in 2016, and a Stroke Prevention Clinic and Rapid Assessment Stroke Unit in 2018,” added Dr. Own.
Dr. Naveed Akhtar, Senior Consultant Neurologist and Head of the Stroke Service at HMC, says in recent years there has been a gradual increase in the number of suspected stroke patients seen at HMC.
“In 2015, we saw an average of 100 patients a month, a number that has risen to around 190 a month throughout 2020. As soon as the threat of COVID-19 in Qatar became apparent, we worked hard to quickly adapt how we provide care to ensure the safety of both our patients and staff,” said Dr. Akhtar.
Dr. Akhtar explained that the stroke teams immediately implemented all necessary infection control protocols and established a telephone consultation service for stroke patients requiring follow-up appointments. The telephone service enabled recovering stroke patients to continue receiving medical advice in the safety of their own homes. Suspected acute stroke patients were still admitted to the Emergency Department at Hamad General Hospital; however, once they were identified as COVID-19 positive they were transferred to one of HMC’s dedicated COVID-19 facilities where they were treated by a team of stroke consultants.
“In addition to utilizing thrombolysis - a clot-busting drug providing effective treatment in acute ischemic stroke - we now regularly utilize interventional thrombectomies, a type of minimally invasive surgery that removes a blood clot from an artery. Thrombectomy is a very advanced and effective way to clear a blocked blood vessel where thrombolysis might not re-open the vessel,” said Dr. Ayman Zakaria, Senior Consultant, Interventional Neuroradiology at Hamad General Hospital.
Out of the 1,200 confirmed strokes this year, 798 were ischemic strokes - caused by a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the brain – and 73 received thrombolysis, and 19 had a mechanical thrombectomy.
“The opening of the Neuroangiography Suite has helped our neuroradiology interventional team perform more than 240 mechanical thrombectomies in the last five years to remove blood clots or clear blockages in patients’ veins and arteries. This service is making a significant improvement to the outcomes of many stroke patients,” added. Dr. Zakaria.
Dr. Akhtar emphasized the speed at which treatment can be given to stroke patients is of the highest importance.
“The more time that passes between the stroke happening and medical intervention, the greater the damage that can be done. The term ‘time is brain’ is frequently used to emphasize the need for fast intervention, as the faster treatment can be given following a stroke, the better the chances of recovery. If you suspect that you, or someone around you, has suffered a stroke, call 999 immediately so care teams can respond, and treatment can be given as soon as possible,” said Dr. Akhtar.