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CDC study records drop in ER visits for heart attack, chest pain during pandemic

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | June 11, 2020
Cardiology Emergency Medicine
Fewer patients visited the ER for heart attack or chest pain in the spring due to what may be a greater fear of catching COVID-19, says a CDC study.
ER visits for chest pain and heart attacks have dropped in the U.S. early this spring, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings suggest that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has scared people from seeking help at hospitals for these conditions and nearly every other type of injury or illness. Exceptions were ER visits for respiratory illnesses and pneumonia which grew in the number, reported the Associated Press.

“There’s a lot of evidence that suggests people are afraid to interact with medical care, and are deciding not to act on their symptoms,” Wayne Rosamond, a University of North Carolina researcher who studies heart disease and stroke trends, told the AP.

ER visits decreased by 42% over four weeks, starting in late March and continuing through most of April, compared to the same time last year.

The study, which analyzed ER visits in 43 states, found 1,100 fewer visits per week for heart attacks, and 24,000 fewer for chest pain.

Death certificate reports that list heart attack as the primary culprit recorded 2,000 more deaths than normal in each of the first three weeks of April. Research in the U.S. and Italy found declines in heart-related hospital admissions and use of labs to clear clogged arteries as well, but did not record any change in heart attack deaths during the pandemic. The latest study found a small increase in people arriving at the ER in cardiac arrest.

“They could have been people with heart attacks who waited too long,” Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a Yale University cardiologist and healthcare researcher, told the AP.

The European Society of Cardiology also found a drop of more than 50% of the number of heart attack patients seeking urgent hospital care during the pandemic, as part of a worldwide survey. Such findings in both studies may indicate greater concern among patients of catching the coronavirus in a crowded ER over their heart problems.

“Fear of catching the coronavirus means even people in the midst of a life-threatening heart attack are too afraid to go to hospital for lifesaving treatment,” said ESC president professor Barbara Casadei, in a statement. “There has been a lack of public reassurance that every effort has been made to provide clean hospital areas for non-COVID-19 patients. Yet the risk of dying of a heart attack is much greater than that of dying of COVID-19. Moreover, cardiac death is largely preventable if patients with a heart attack come to hospital in time to get treatment. What we are witnessing is an unnecessary loss of life.”

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