If you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, doctors urge you to not delay seeking treatment because of COVID-19 concerns.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors across the nation are reporting a sharp decline in patients coming to the hospital for heart attacks and strokes. These conditions don’t stop during a pandemic, and the decline has doctors worried that many people experiencing symptoms may not be seeking treatment, or that they are seeking treatment only after their condition has worsened. Delaying care could pose a significant threat to your health.
“Heart attacks and strokes required emergency care before the COVID-19 pandemic, and they continue to require emergency care now,” said Sean D. Pokorney, MD, MBA, assistant professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at Duke University School of Medicine. “If you are experiencing symptoms, contact your doctor or call 911 now, as you may need immediate care to save your life.”
Recognize the symptoms
You may be having a heart attack if you have symptoms such as:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Discomfort in your chest, arms, back, neck, shoulder or jaw
You may be having a stroke if you are experiencing:
- Numbness, weakness or loss of movement in your face, leg or arm, especially on one side
- Loss of balance
- Confusion, including trouble speaking or understanding
Health experts urge you to contact your doctor or call 911 if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
Patients may be understandably nervous about going to a hospital during COVID-19, but hospitals have implemented many safety measures to protect you from coronavirus. These facilities are ready now to safely care for you if you are experiencing serious health issues.
“Hospitals are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of patients who need critical care,” Pokorney said. “With all of these measures, going to the hospital is probably at least as safe as going to the grocery store. Certainly, the consequences of not seeking timely care for heart attacks and strokes are far greater than the risk of COVID-19 exposure in the hospital.”
Facilities have implemented routine screening procedures to evaluate if any visitors entering the facility might have a risk of COVID-19 exposure, even before they step foot inside the building. Many facilities are separating COVID-19 patients into separate wards or buildings to ensure other patients are protected and not exposed. Routinely checking temperatures, masks and protective equipment for healthcare workers and other staff are some of the other measures that help to ensure a safe environment.
Waiting now can cause complications later
Bad news doesn’t get better with time. Delaying treatment for a heart attack or stroke can have serious consequences, causing a bad condition to worsen and making recovery more difficult. For some patients, postponing care can be the difference between life and death.
“I’ve talked to patients who are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or warning signs for sudden cardiac death and some are choosing to take their chances at home,” explained Pokorney. “The unfortunate result is that those patients may die at home or have worse long-term outcomes from the delays in care — and that’s avoidable.”
The recovery period after a heart attack may also require critical care.
“A heart attack is a potential risk factor for sudden cardiac arrest, a life-threatening condition that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating,” said Mary Newman, executive director of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. “If you’ve had a heart attack, your doctor can help to determine if you are at risk and can discuss treatment options to keep you safe. But they can only help if you follow up on your symptoms.”
If you are having symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, getting care quickly is critical to your treatment and recovery. When you seek help immediately, the care you receive is more likely to be lifesaving, you can likely get better more quickly, and you can limit the damage to your heart and your overall health.