Heart attack, stroke patients not seeking treatment over COVID-19 fears

The number of emergency room visits have dropped dramatically during the pandemic according to doctors, and among those not coming to the ER are people suffering heart attacks and strokes.

Hospitals usually see a steady number of such patients, but doctors at Tampa General Hospital said they fear patients are having cardiac emergencies at home for fear of going to the hospital and possibly getting infected with COVID-19.

“There was about a 30-percent drop in heart attack visits to the hospital,” said Dr. Fadi Matar, the medical director of the cardiac catheterization lab at TGH and an associate professor of medicine at USF Health. “I have several patients who are extremely anxious about coming despite them having heart-failure symptoms and are in need for microvalve procedures.”

And it’s happening across the country. The American College of Emergency Physicians says ER volumes are down 50 percent in some areas, and their April poll confirmed fears that people are delaying care.

Heart organizations and doctors are sounding the alarm and sharing the consequences.

“It could be very dangerous,” said Matar, about his patients delaying care. “Two of them were 10 days late to show up. By the end, they showed up the heart attack was complete, and the damage to the heart muscle was massive. One patient actually died because of that.”

Doctors at TGH said they are reassuring patients of the hospital’s extreme measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

“The risk of infection for the COVID-19 infection acquired in the hospital is much less than the risk of them having a cardiac problem if they don't show up,” said Matar.

If you are in a true emergency, like showing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, doctors don’t want your fear to cost you your life. 

“You should not delay, you should go immediately. Call 911 and or go to the emergency room. Have somebody take you there,” added Matar.