A May 2020 article in Undark Magazine explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with heart disease. The article discussed the ramifications of choosing not to go to the emergency department with heart disease symptoms due to fears of catching the coronavirus.
In the article, the authors reported a worrying trend. “As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the number of patients showing up at hospitals with serious cardiovascular emergencies such as strokes and heart attacks shrank dramatically.” The consequences of not seeking care for cardiac events could be dangerous, and many doctors are concerned that people who have delayed care will be sicker by the time they reach the emergency room (ER).
One MyHeartDiseaseTeam member shared concerns about going to the hospital despite dangerous symptoms she was experiencing. She wrote, “My blood pressure had risen to very dangerous numbers. 209/109. As I sat there, frightened, the question on my mind was whether or not to transport to the hospital while COVID-19 is in full swing. Sad but true. Afterwards, I thought about how dangerous it is to ignore our symptoms.”
In a recent newsletter from Michigan Health, Dr. Nicole Bhave discussed the importance of tracking your symptoms, especially for any changes. Dr. Bhave stated, “If you are experiencing chest pain, particularly if it’s new chest pain or different chest pain than you’ve had before, don’t ignore it. Especially if chest pain is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweatiness and clamminess, pain moving to the left arm, or a generally unwell feeling, you should seriously consider going to the emergency room.”
In an article for Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Bradford Borden, chairman of the Emergency Services Institute, reminded readers that quick treatment can mean the difference between living and dying. He recommended people seek emergency care when they need it.
Before you head to the hospital or ER, be aware that you may experience a different protocol because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here some new practices you may encounter:
Many MyHeartDiseaseTeam members have reported that their heart surgeries and other procedures have been delayed due to the ongoing pandemic. Some are grateful for the delay in medical care to avoid the added risks. One member wrote, “I was scheduled to have a mitral valve replacement, however the hospitals are flooded and overwhelmed by the patients with the virus. My team of cardiologists recommended to postpone my surgery until a later date. I totally agree. I don’t want to be at risk.”
Members have stated that both regular primary care and surgical follow-up appointments have been canceled due to COVID-19. One member asked about techniques for managing pain post-surgery due to the cancellation of both cardiologist and general practitioner appointments. Members confirmed their routine appointments are often being conducted via telemedicine.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also delayed diagnostic or basic health care procedures members of MyHeartDiseaseTeam had scheduled, from foot surgery to dental work. One member reported that her cardiologist wanted a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea, but “right now all nonessential tests have been canceled at our hospital.” Another member confirmed that her dental surgery was delayed due to COVID-19.
The uncertainty of delayed surgeries, postponed follow-up appointments, and canceled routine care makes it more difficult for those already living with heart disease symptoms.
Worrying about treatment schedules — and about the future in general — adds stress to an already challenging situation for people living with heart disease. According to a recent article from USC News, disruptions in routines caused by the pandemic contribute to feelings of instability. “The routines built up over time are gone, so we all have to make new decisions about how to live now,” said Wendy Wood, provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California. “Everything we do requires a decision, takes more energy, and feels uncertain.” Dr. Wood suggests creating new, healthy habits to help cope with stress.
In the same article, Sheila Teresa Murphy, associate professor of communication at USC, offered some specific recommendations around news and media:
Here are more ideas to help manage stress and take care of your mental health:
Lastly, while this is easier said than done during times like these, try to reduce your stress level. Studies show that reducing stress helps your heart.
You can make a plan to reach out to friends or loved ones by phone or video chat to minimize feelings of isolation. If at any point your stress or anxiety become overwhelming, it is important to contact your health care providers. They can help you find better ways to manage stress.
As always, MyHeartDiseaseTeam offers a support group of more than 36,000 other people facing heart disease, always available online.
Have you experienced delays in surgeries, tests, or other scheduled care due to the coronavirus pandemic? How are you coping with stress and uncertainty related to delays? Comment below or post about your experiences on MyHeartDiseaseTeam.
Stay up to date with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s situation summary about COVID-19. See also COVID-19 and Heart Disease Essential Updates.