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Heart attack patients taking 18 hours longer to present at hospital during lockdown

Experts say fear of Covid-19 is keeping patients away from hospitals despite the higher risk of cardiac death.

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HEART ATTACK PATIENTS are waiting on average 18 hours longer before attending hospital to seek medical help since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, according to heart and stroke charity Croí.

The charity said heart patients are at increased risk due these delays in seeking treatment, caused by fears around the coronavirus. 

“Fear of Covid-19 is keeping patients away from hospitals, despite the risk of cardiac death being ten times higher than death from Covid-19,” said Neil Johnson, CEO of Croí.

Patients experiencing symptoms are being urged to attend the hospital immediately.

Dr Samer Arnous, consultant cardiologist at University Hospital Limerick said 25% of patients with serious valve disease will die within three to six months if untreated.

“Due to Covid-19 we are already three months delayed in treating patients, but working extremely hard to make up for lost time,” he said.

The number of cardiac patients presenting to hospitals for treatment fell during the Covid-19 lockdown and Arnous said this resulted in the non-performance of an estimated 9,000 urgent cardiac care procedures across Ireland when compared to the pre-Covid-19 norm.

He estimates that the cardiac team at University Hospital Limerick did 60 fewer urgent heart procedures per week during the lockdown.

Urgent cardiac care procedures include the fitting of pacemakers or stents, Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantations (TAVI) or angiograms, none of which should normally be delayed due to highly increased risk of permanent, life debilitating damage or death.

He said the reduction in Limerick would be fairly representative of the average reduction across other hospitals.

“Some hospitals may differ in either direction, but when you average it out, 9,000+ cases gives us a very good indication of the number of patients who urgently needed treatment and would have received life changing, if not lifesaving cardiac care had Covid-19 not arisen,” said Dr Arnous.

Research conducted at University Hospital Galway also found a reduction of approximately one third in emergency Percutaneous Coronary Interventions such as stent insertions across all hospitals in Ireland during the lockdown. This number does not include elective cardiac procedures, many of which are also clinically urgent.

Croí said there is now a prospect of a surge of patients with advanced cardiac symptoms in the coming weeks and months.

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“Time is muscle,” said the charity’s CEO, Neil Johnson. “The longer you wait with either a heart attack or stroke, the greater the damage to your heart or brain respectively.

“As the country opens up again, it’s imperative that patients no longer fear Covid-19 risks and realise the much greater risk in delaying with a heart complaint. It’s important to remember that cardiac death is largely preventable.”

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