One of the first things we all heard about the Coronavirus was how those with underlying heart conditions had the worst outcomes. In the early days, as Dr Tony Holohan announced the daily death rate, he would make a special mention of the number of deaths with ‘pre-existing’ medical conditions. This messaging, together with probably the strongest public health messages of all time to ‘stay at home’ has struck fear in the hearts and minds of those living with or caring for those with heart and related conditions.
One of the unintended consequences of this health messaging are very high levels of fear around visiting a doctor or going to hospital. The extent of these fears is global, as confirmed by a recent international survey conducted by the Global Heart Hub — a global alliance of heart patient organisations which Croi was instrumental in establishing some years ago www.globalhearthub.org The survey found that the biggest fear is contracting the virus and the second biggest fear is visiting a doctor or going to hospital. While these fears are perfectly understandable, they are now the cause of some very serious collateral damage.
Across the world, and here in Ireland it’s no exception, many people experiencing symptoms of heart attack or stroke have delayed in going to their doctor or hospital. We now know that this decision to just ‘sit it out’ and hope for the best has actually resulted in worse outcomes, ranging from unnecessary loss of life to being left with long term chronic health conditions, disability and a poorer quality of life.
Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the number of heart attacks across Europe seeking urgent hospital care, dropped by more than 50%. In Ireland, the number of cardiac admissions to hospitals across the country dropped by as much as 80% in some cases.
Heart attacks and strokes have not gone away
Clearly, heart attacks and strokes have not gone away, but fear of catching the coronavirus has meant that even in the midst of a life-threatening heart attack, people are too afraid to go to hospital for life-saving treatment. Doctors are now telling us that those who delay in seeking medical help are in a far worse condition when they finally arrive at hospital and they are often too late to benefit from the life-saving treatments that are normally available to them.
Many coronary care units are now seeing patients present at a level of deterioration once common 40 years ago before the modern treatments for heart attack were available and this is all down to delays in seeking medical attention at first signs of a cardiac emergency.
Galway based, President of the Irish Cardiac Society, Consultant Cardiologist & Medical Director of Croi, Prof Jim Crowley says “what is happening, is very worrying. We know that cardiovascular disease has not gone away. We face the prospect of a surge of patients with advanced cardiac symptoms in the coming weeks and months as an indirect consequence of COIVD-19 and this is concerning”.
Yet the risk of dying from an untreated heart attack is at least ten times higher than dying from COVID-19. Thanks to modern treatment options, cardiac death is now largely preventable if those with a heart attack come to hospital in time to get treatment. So what we are witnessing is really unnecessary loss of life and unnecessary longer term health complications.
We need to stop this from happening so Croi has joined forces with other patient groups across Europe in a ‘patient to patient’ awareness and education campaign aimed at saving lives and reducing disability by encouraging those with symptoms of heart attack or stroke to seek medical help without delay.
From Monday June 15, they have leading a national #JustGo Campaign where the slogan is: When your heart says so – Just Go!
The message is clear and simple: If you are experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, Don’t delay. Every minute counts. If you have chest pain or other symptoms of heart attack, such as pain in the throat, neck, back, stomach or shoulders that lasts for more than 15 minutes, you must call an ambulance.
Medical advice has always been to act quickly when it comes to symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. You will often hear doctors say, ‘Time is muscle’ - the longer you wait with a heart attack or stroke, the more damage that occurs to your heart muscle. The same applies to the brain in the case of stroke.
The ‘Just Go’ message is equally directed to those who have an existing heart condition, especially those living with heart failure and heart valve disease. In both these cases, if you are experiencing new symptoms or a worsening of symptoms which you associate with your condition, you need to put you’re your heart before your fear of the coronavirus and contact your doctor or go to a hospital as soon as possible.
For further information on the #JustGo Campaign or Signs or Symptoms visit www.croi.ie/justgo Our hospitals are ready and have capacity to deal with heart and stroke emergencies. Care pathways are in place so that the risk of coronavirus infection has been minimised at every step of the journey. Quite simply, if you are experiencing a heart or stroke emergency, now is NOT the time to ‘stay at home’
In the community, Croi is supporting those concerned or worried about heart and stroke issues. Thanks to generous support from companies based locally or with a presence in the west of Ireland, we launched Heart Link West – a free service which provides direct contact with our multidisciplinary health team of cardiac nurse specialists, dieticians, physiotherapy & exercise specialists. Our team are now available at the end of a telephone line, Monday to Friday 9:00am - 5:30pm to answer your concerns, provide reassurance or signpost you in the right direction. In addition, you can join our daily ‘virtual health chats’ where you can ask questions and seek advice face-to-face with a healthcare professional.
Since we launched this free service on May 1, we are hearing at first-hand how patients and carers are struggling with the impact of Covid-19 such as; heightened fears and anxieties; concerns over delayed, postponed or cancelled procedures and absence of support services which have been suspended due staff deployment or limited capacity.
Overall, the knock-on effects of this pandemic are far reaching. As we move forward we need to prioritise care for those who are and were the most vulnerable throughout. Like all charities, it’s now very challenging to raise much needed funds but we remain steadfastly committed to being here when we are needed most.
To contact our health team, call 091-544310 or email [email protected].