CATES: Heart Health Month

Despite most of our attention in healthcare right now being centered on the COVID pandemic, the number one killer of Americans is still the same thing it’s been for as long as I can remember, heart disease.

According to the latest data from the American Heart Association, over 850,000 people die from cardiovascular disease each year. That is more than all forms of cancer and all forms of lower respiratory disease combined.

That alone is an issue, but there is more and more data out there showing that when the final statistics come out for heart disease related deaths in 2020, it’s going to be worse. The reason is COVID. But not for the reason you think. Yes, people who have heart disease are at higher risk for severe symptoms with COVID, but the bigger reason heart disease deaths are up in 2020 is people with heart disease aren’t seeking care.

One of the things that we asked in the early part of the pandemic was “where have all the other patients gone?” We just weren’t seeing the same numbers of people for things that are not related to seasonal illnesses like the flu.

One of those things was heart attacks. The worry was that people were still having those problems, they just weren’t seeking medical care until they were in big trouble. Unfortunately, those worries have shown to be true.

In a study by physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston and Harvard University, researchers found that in 2020 deaths related to ischemic heart disease (heart attacks) and high blood pressure significantly increased after the pandemic began in 2020.

In New York alone, deaths due to heart attack increased by 139 percent and deaths related to high blood pressure increased by 164 percent. These numbers were similar in many other states as well.

The other frightening statistic was that there was a 5.5 times increase in the number of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and deaths in 2020 after the pandemic began, and over that same time period, a 58 percent reduction in people showing up in hospitals with heart attacks.

Basically, that means people who should have come to the hospital, did not. Instead they stayed home, and they died. The researchers very much believe that people are afraid of catching COVID-19, and so they are not seeking care — even when seeking care would save their life.

The researchers hope that their findings show that not seeking care for fear of COVID is just as dangerous if not more so than not seeking care.

According to the American Heart Association, some heart attacks are sudden and intense like the ones you see dramatized on TV, but most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. Call 911 if you experience: chest discomfort, particularly if it is in the center of the chest that last more than a few minutes though it can also go away and return.

Chest discomfort is often described as pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Discomfort in other areas of the upper body like one or both arms, the back, the neck, the jaw, or the stomach can also signal heart problems. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort, cold sweats, nausea, or lightheadedness are other symptoms someone having a heart attack can experience.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to seek care if you think you may be having a heart attack. Don’t let COVID deter you from seeking that care. You are at far more risk of dying or having permanent damage from not seeking care during a heart attack than you are for getting COVID while seeking care.

When you seek that care, please call 911. The amazing people at Odessa Fire Rescue can actually start diagnostics and treatment as soon as they get to you, which means if you are having a heart attack, on arrival to the hospital, the healthcare team is able to stop it as quickly as possible. Studies show the faster a heart attack is diagnosed and treated, the less likely it is to cause permanent damage or death. Plus, it’s just not safe for you to drive, or for a loved one who is worried about you to drive, the road will not get the attention it deserves.