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Drop in ER visits since pandemic started has doctors concerned

By HealthDay News
The odds of dying from an untreated heart attack are 10 times higher than from COVID-19, according to a Pennsylvania cardiologist. Photo by paulbr75/Pixabay
The odds of dying from an untreated heart attack are 10 times higher than from COVID-19, according to a Pennsylvania cardiologist. Photo by paulbr75/Pixabay

Fear of COVID-19 is keeping keep some people from getting medical help for critical conditions like stroke and heart attack, experts say.

In the first months of the pandemic, doctors at the Penn State Health Hershey Medical Center saw a 50% drop in the number of patients going to the emergency room for serious illnesses.

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Although these numbers are starting to trend upward, patients need to understand that hospitals provide safe care and quick treatment is essential to prevent death and disability, doctors say.

"There is a lot of concern about COVID-19 -- and you should be concerned as it is very serious -- but you are 10 times more likely to die from an untreated heart attack than you are from COVID-19," said Dr. Chad Zack, an interventional cardiologist at Penn State Heart and Vascular Institute.

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"Other things we worry about would be sudden cardiac arrest at home, heart failure symptoms in the short term and in the long term, and even delayed complications that can be associated with heart muscle rupture or acute onset valvular heart disease," Zack said in a center news release.

Classic symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, chest tightness, and aches in the chest or arms that radiate to the neck or jaw. Some people may experience nausea, abdominal pain or even shortness of breath.

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"If you experience any of these symptoms, especially if you have a history of cardiac disease, we urge you to call 911 and be seen promptly -- especially if symptoms persist for more than 15 minutes," Zack said.

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With stroke, fast medical care is also critical, said Dr. Ray Reichwein, a neurologist and co-director of the Penn State Stroke Center.

"A number of people who have milder symptoms may feel that they are going to ride it out at home. It turns out individuals who suffer a mini-stroke or a mild stroke have a much higher likelihood of having another stroke over the next 90 days," Reichwein said.

"I encourage everyone that it is critical, even with milder symptoms, to get checked out and determine why it happened and hopefully change the management, so they don't end up with a subsequent, disabling stroke," he added.

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Hospitals are working hard to protect patients and staff from the coronavirus. When patients arrive at most hospitals, they are screened for symptoms of COVID-19 and isolated if they have them. That means you're unlikely to come in contact with someone who has the virus.

More information

For more on COVID-19, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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