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Where have all the heart attacks gone?

Medical providers are worried about a new trend in health care: People who are afraid of COVID-19 are staying home instead of going to hospital emergency rooms when they are having heart attacks, strokes and other life-threatening conditions. The reality is that the emergency room is the best – and safest – place you can be. Emergency departments have the medical care and highly trained staff you need – and have taken necessary precautions to prevent the spread of infection.

Statistics indicate that the number of patients visiting emergency rooms nationwide has dropped by 40 - 50 percent since March. It's not surprising that people are reluctant to go to the ER, given news stories of hospitals overwhelmed with coronavirus cases. However, delays in treatment can cause complications, long-term health problems and even death.

Older adults are especially at risk because they are more likely to have cardiovascular disease, diabetes or other chronic medical conditions that make putting off emergency care especially risky.

Heart Attack Symptoms

The most common symptoms of a heart attack include discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and cold sweats. Those at higher risk for heart attack also include smokers and people with kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol, or existing heart disease.

Our doctors advise that if you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911, come to the emergency department, and let the team check you out.

Warning Signs of Stroke

People who have minor signs of stroke may be reluctant to go to the emergency department because they’re afraid of being exposed to COVID-19. But even minor symptoms need attention. Stroke is a neurological emergency and there are time sensitive treatments for strokes. It’s especially important that when someone has symptoms of a stroke, call 911 and get to the emergency room immediately.

Greenwich Hospital is a nationally recognized Stroke Center. When patients show symptoms of stroke, care begins in the ambulance and a special hospital team is activated. By the time patients arrive at the Emergency Department, the “stroke alert team” has been mobilized and our neurologist notified.

Common signs of stroke include:

  • Sudden onset of a severe headache
  • Weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Sudden difficulty walking or dizziness, loss of balance or lack of coordination

An additional concern is that some people who are at high risk of stroke may be isolated due to social distancing during COVID-19. They don’t have their friends and family around as frequently to notice the signs of stroke. Social networks are important in recognizing stroke, so staying in regular contact with loved ones while practicing proper social distancing can help people get the emergency care they need.