Across the United States, doctors have reported that hospitals are eerily quiet apart from wards housing patients diagnosed with, or suffering from symptoms of, COVID-19. This is surprising for some, especially given the frequency that emergency rooms and other hospital departments are typically used to treat a wide variety of common ailments such as heart attacks and strokes.
Particularly alarming for some is that many of the normal emergencies have disappeared. In fact, the New York Times reported that those typically treating heart attack and stroke emergencies are largely sitting idle. Meanwhile, cardiologists have reported that their cardiology consultations have declined, apart from those related to COVID-19. More than this, half of the respondents to an informal Twitter poll reported a 40-60% decline in heart attack admissions, while 20% reported a reduction in heart attack admissions exceeding 60%. The same trend has also been noticed in Spain, with a 40% reduction in heart attack emergencies.
These statistics are contrary to what doctors previously predicted. As high levels of depression, anxiety and frustration are known to double one’s risk of having a heart attack, they had previously thought that emergency cardiovascular cases would spike alongside cases of COVID-19. This comes especially as underlying cardiovascular disease is known to be a compounding factor towards negative outcomes for those with COVID-19. So what happened?
Some of the decline in patients arriving to the emergency room with problems other than COVID-19 is of course due to structural changes such as the canceling of elective procedures. Moreover, hospital staff have largely switched to using telemedicine applications to monitor and support outpatients who are not acutely ill.
Beyond this though, Harlan Krumholz, a professor of medicine at Yale University said that this decrease may have happened due to most people staying home and therefore potentially avoiding certain triggers that normally precede a cardiovascular event. Another factor may be that those suffering from troublesome symptoms would rather stay at home than risk going to hospital and catching COVID-19. This comes especially as doctors in Hong Kong reported an increase in patients arriving at hospital with late-stage heart attacks often beyond a point when treatments can be effective.
To this end, doctors have urged patients not to stay at home and leave potentially life-threatening illnesses and symptoms untreated. Although they acknowledge the need for as many people as possible to stay at home during this crisis, in case of severe conditions that require hospital care, they urge patients to arrive at the hospital, where they can be assured to receive proper treatment in a safe environment.