Fear of Covid-19 resulting in unnecessary cardiac deaths
Cardiovascular diseases remain a leading cause of death, both locally and internationally, taking the lives of close on 18 million people every year – 85% of these cases due to a heart attack and stroke.
Disturbingly, however, according to a recent worldwide survey by the European Society of Cardiology, the number of people seeking emergency medical care when suffering a heart attack has dropped globally by more than 50% during the Covid-19 outbreak.
A recent poll by a South African pharmaceutical company also found a major decline in the number of doctor consultations since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a 90% decrease in cardiology consultations.
Many people are neglecting to have regular check-ups for their heart disease and other chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes – often because they are too scared to leave their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This has led to Dr YT (Trishun) Singh, a leading local cardiologist, who practises at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban, warning that patients concerned about their heart health and other chronic conditions should always seek medical care.
"Many South Africans have not been having their heart disease and other chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes monitored and treated adequately during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, which exposes them to serious health risks,” said Singh.
He says while it is understandable that people want to avoid going out at this time as much as possible, they must nevertheless ensure that they at least stay in touch with their doctor as these conditions require ongoing clinical monitoring, and take their medication exactly as prescribed to ensure their heart condition remains properly managed.
“It is also of great concern that many individuals are taking the unnecessary risk, due to fear of possible Covid-19 infection, of avoiding seeking medical care even in the case of a serious medical emergency such as a suspected heart attack,” adds Singh, who is also a founder of the multi-disciplinary Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Heart Care at Netcare uMhlanga Hospital, and also established South Africa’s first cardio-oncology centre at the hospital.
“The situation in South Africa is likely similar and it is tragic if you consider that it has probably already cost lives, this despite life-saving treatments being available. I would consequently like to urge individuals who experience any symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, to put their concerns about Covid-19 aside and urgently seek medical intervention at their closest emergency department.
“It should also be noted that people with chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes are considered at higher risk of contracting Covid-19 and of suffering serious complications from the infection.
"The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States confirms this, noting that serious cardiovascular conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle) and pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure) may put people at higher risk for severe illness from Covid-19.
“In order to reduce their risk of developing severe Covid-19, it is therefore critical that South Africans with chronic health conditions ensure that these are well managed with the assistance of their doctor, and to do everything else they possibly can to support both their heart and general health at this time.”
A heart attack, which is also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when a narrowing of the heart arteries or a blood clot cuts off the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.
“Early treatment of a heart attack and stroke is critical. If doctors can re-establish normal blood flow to the heart timeously, damage to the heart muscle can be substantially reduced, and lives saved,” advises Singh.
"It is also important for them to ensure that they do not run short of their prescribed chronic medication, and that they take their medication exactly as prescribed by their healthcare provider."