A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Heart deaths and the pandemic on rise: An epidemic within a pandemic

Heart care pandemic - image

The COVID-19 pandemic has had implications on our lives in many different ways, including how regularly we receive health care for preventive exams and follow-up for chronic conditions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had implications on our lives in many different ways, including how regularly we receive health care for preventive exams and follow-up for chronic conditions.

Recently, studies indicate the pandemic has caused a spike in heart-related deaths.

According to U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, deaths from heart disease including heart attacks and those related to complications of high blood pressure increased by 11% and 17%, respectively, compared to 2019.

Early detection of health issues are critical in many specialties, and it is no different in heart care.

Being in the midst of a pandemic, patients have elected to postpone or completely pass on their regular scheduled checkups, even if they have chronic health issues such as hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These chronic issues are risk factors to heart attack and stroke, said Dr. Pramod Kariyanna, Marshfield Clinic Health System interventional cardiologist and endovascular specialist.

“There is a lot of fear out there of acquiring COVID-19 in hospitals that many who may experience heart disease symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, opt to stay at home,” Dr. Kariyanna said. “These delays have led to a small epidemic in its own right, with a steady rise in incidents of stroke and heart attack.”

Kariyanna also pointed to a study from nine participating U.S. STEMI Centers, which shows a 38% reduction in U.S. cardiac catheterization laboratory STEMI (ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, or a major heart attack) activations, which are the standard treatment for patients with complete occlusion of arteries that supply heart.

“This is not because heart problem cases have vanished,” he said. “People have just elected not to come in because of COVID-19. Many (people) with symptoms of heart disease when ignored may end up having a poor prognosis.

The fear of acquiring the COVID-19 virus, not having access to convenient care or limited availability due to COVID-19 are a few factors people are not keeping up with checkups, Dr. Kariyanna said.

“Be assured that hospitals are taking all possible precautions and making every visit as safe as possible,” Dr. Kariyanna said. “People entering are being screened thoroughly and if someone is showing symptoms they are re-directed to appropriate COVID-care areas.”

While it is understandable to be afraid during a pandemic, it is pivotal to keep your care at the forefront. Kariyanna urges people to come in for a regular checkup, follow up visits and if you are having symptoms heart disease like chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations or leg swelling, call your provider.

Dr. Kariyanna also encourages people to take the COVID-19 vaccine as COVID-19 by itself can cause major heart attack or inflammation of the heart muscle and heart failure.

“It is important not to attribute every chest pain and/or shortness of breath to COVID-19 after recovery. Shortness of breath and chest pain can be symptoms of severe heart or lung problems,” he said.

To schedule a checkup please talk to your doctor and make an appointment.

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