COVID has changed the world and especially the healthcare industry forever.
A striking feature during COVID was the disappearance of the cardiovascular emergencies, including heart attacks and strokes.Since the beginning of the pandemic, all emergency visits and admissions to hospitals in the country for heart related ailments had declined drastically by 40-60 % compared with pre-pandemic data.
Much could have been attributed to the fact that people were apprehensive and were delaying receiving prompt care for heart attacks or strokes due to fear of contracting COVID at the hospital, without realising that untreated heart attacks could lead to long-term serious complications. Researchers concluded that people were more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack when compared with pre-pandemic times, probably because they were less likely to be hospitalised.
In various studies over the last few months, it has been found that COVID evolved as a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. It is fatally affecting a large number of young people with no pre-existing heart ailments or any traditional risk factors like diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol. Also, the risk of heart attacks and strokes is increased three-fold in the first two weeks following COVID, with patients suffering a heart attack even after seven to eight weeks of recovery from COVID. Unfortunately, we saw a large number of patients in emergency between the age of 20 to 25 years suffering a massive heart attack and succumbing to it.
Off lately, there has been a sudden rise in cases of cardiovascular diseases presenting to the emergency. We can only ponder if it can be due to COVID?
It has now been established that Coronavirus does on occasions infect and damage the heart muscles directly. Studies have shown that up to 1 in 5 patients with the illness end up with heart damage. Heart failure has been the cause of death in COVID patients, even those without severe breathing problems.
Since people with COVID-19 can have symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, including chest pain, shortness of breath and changes on their 2D echocardiogram, or ECG, we will never be able to tell whether the large number of dead bodies which were brought to the Emergency Departments across the country were fatalities due to COVID lung infection or due to a heart attack caused by COVID.
Another undeniable truth is that the pandemic has lead people into developing the very lifestyle factors that cause heart disease over the long term. We’re a country which eats too much unhealthy food, exercises too little, fails to undergo regular health checkups – and with the lockdown for more than a year, the drivers of cardiovascular diseases only got worse. The American Heart Association (AHA) has predicted a surge of heart attack and strokes in the months and years to come as a lagging indicator of the lifestyle changes and stress forced upon the world by the pandemic.
With the ongoing battle against COVID, we need to combat perceptions that everyone must stay away from the hospital. People should not avoid seeking care for life-threatening, yet treatable, conditions like heart attacks and strokes.