Sophia Antipolis, 8 February: Tom was born with a common congenital heart defect that was surgically repaired in childhood.1 But last year, at 20 years of age, he started vomiting and coughing. He became breathless and developed fever and diarrhoea.
Tom knew something was seriously wrong, but he thought hospitals were only treating coronavirus, and was worried about catching COVID-19 if he were to seek help. So he endured his symptoms for weeks. When he finally did go to King’s College Hospital in London, Tom was found to have a heart murmur caused by an infection on one of his heart valves. Doctors did everything they could, but his heart began to beat more and more slowly until he went into cardiac arrest and died.
“This is such a tragic story,” said Dr. Eva Toth, a cardiology registrar who diagnosed Tom’s heart problem. “Had he sought help earlier his chances of survival would have been much greater.”
Dr. Luke Dancy, another cardiology registrar treating Tom, said: “The combination of fear of COVID-19 and misinformation about what was available kept him away from the one place where his life could have been saved.”
Tom was not alone. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a 40-50% decrease in acute coronary syndrome admissions.2 A study in England found that by the end of March 2020, the average weekly number of acute coronary syndrome admissions fell by 40% compared with the average weekly number during 2019.3 Instead of calling emergency care, these people are likely to have progressed to a heart attack at home which has a huge negative impact on their chance of survival.
There is an optimal window to treat emergency heart situations. The longer a cardiac emergency is untreated, the worse the outcome may be. Particularly in lockdown periods, patients delay seeking medical care: up to 48% were estimated to delay treatment beyond the window for optimal care.4
Similar results were found in a global survey conducted by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). In the ESC poll of 3,101 hospital physicians and nurses in 141 countries, most respondents said the number of heart attack patients seeking urgent hospital care dropped by more than 50% during the COVID-19 outbreak.4
‘You Can’t Pause a Heart‘ is the ESC’s new public awareness campaign that urges anyone with heart ailments, especially those with symptoms of a heart attack, to seek care without delay.
ESC President Stephan Achenbach said: “You must not wait. Call an ambulance if you have heart attack symptoms such as a pressure or burning sensation in your chest, or an unexplained pain in the throat, neck, back, stomach or shoulders that lasts for more than 15 minutes. Quick treatment can save your life. For patients, like Tom, living with heart disease, it is essential to continue prescribed treatments and regular doctor consultations, and to get help early if your condition worsens. Don’t let the pandemic stop you from getting the help you need.”