Someone in the US has a heart attack every 40 seconds according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that heart attack rates have dropped by an average of 38 percent since March 1, when we all began self-quarantining because of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
I participated in this study along with other cardiologists from The Christ Hospital, and we believe what's happening is people are still having heart attacks, but instead of seeking medical care, they're self-treating at home.
This is a dangerous decision to make. Even during a pandemic, the place you need to be if you're having a heart attack or think you're having a heart attack is the hospital. We're doing everything we can to keep you safe here, including keeping COVID-19 patients separate from everyone else.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Pressure or tightness in the center of your chest
- Pain in your shoulders or arms
- Pain in your jaw, neck or back
- Shortness of breath
Nausea, vomiting and fatigue may also occur with a heart attack. If you have these symptoms and think you're having a heart attack, don't wait to seek help. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
Heart health during a pandemic
Even though we need to think about our heart health all of the time, it's especially important during the coronavirus pandemic for the following three reasons:
Heart attack rates increase in stressful times. Not only are people still having heart attacks, but there's a chance heart attack rates are actually higher than usual. This is because heart attack numbers typically go up during times of stress. Stress raises our blood pressure and can cause us to engage in unhealthy activities like overeating or drinking too much alcohol – all things that raise your risk for a heart attack. Severe stress can also bring on the phenomenon known as "broken heart syndrome," which causes similar symptoms to a heart attack.
You might be at a higher risk for a heart attack than you realize. The CDC says about half of all Americans have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol or smoking). This fact coupled with the added stress you may be feeling right now means you might be at a higher risk for a heart attack than you think. Women and young adults are more likely to believe they can't have a heart attack even though heart disease is the leading cause of death in women and heart attack rates are on the rise in young people.
All heart attacks require medical care. Whether they cause severe symptoms or mild ones, all heart attacks need immediate treatment by a medical professional. Not seeking treatment could cause permanent damage to your heart or even be life-threatening. If you have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, don't wait to seek help. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.