Heart patients afraid to seek medical help during COVID crisis

If patients delay or avoid treatment, they will suffer life-limiting complications or they will die.

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According to a new study by the University of Leeds, there are many drop-in people admitted to hospitals in England with acute heart failure or a heart attack. This decline may be associated with people resisting visiting the hospital out of a fear of contracting COVID-19.

From the beginning of October to 17 November, there was a 41 percent decline in admissions for people with heart failure and 34 percent with a heart attack – reductions similar to those seen during the first wave of the pandemic and which may have contributed to more than 2,000 excess deaths in England and Wales.

Scientists noted, “The second dip appears of similar magnitude to that of the first, and signals that the public are fearful of attending hospital despite having medical emergencies…”

Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Co-Director of the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, said, “I am afraid that we see a re-run of one of the preventable tragedies of the first wave – people were either too afraid to go to the hospital for fear of contracting COVID-19 or were not referred for treatment.”

“The message to patients needs to be clear. If they experience a heart attack or acute heart failure symptoms, they need to attend the hospital. These are unforgiving medical emergencies. With the right help, people can recover from them. But if patients delay or avoid treatment, they will suffer life-limiting complications – or they will die.”

Dr. Jianhua Wu, Associate Professor at the University of Leeds, said, “One of the worrying aspects of our research is that the decline we have seen since October may not have yet bottomed out. Inevitably there is a fear that will result in deaths that perhaps could have been avoided.”

Professor Simon Ray, President of the British Cardiovascular Society, added“This research illustrates again the importance of the message that other medical problems don’t stop because of COVID and that people with serious problems like heart attack and acute heart failure still need to be seen and treated urgently to prevent death or long-term ill health.”

Scientists compared the daily admission rates before the pandemic with what happened during the first wave of the pandemic and then at the start of the second lockdown in England. The data was drawn from a group of English hospitals – 42 provided data on heart attack cases, 22 on heart failure.

Since submitting their data analysis to the journal, the research team has received more up-to-date figures, including patient data for the whole of November, and it reveals a continuing drop in patient attendances. 

Journal Reference:

  1. Jianhua Wu et al. Second Decline in Admissions With Heart Failure and Myocardial Infarction During the COVID-19 Pandemic. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2020.12.039