Patients Delay Critical Care to Avoid Coronavirus

With so much fear swirling about in people’s minds during the COVI-19 pandemic, especially among vulnerable older adults, a growing number of patients are avoiding or delaying critical care.  But when symptoms of a serious health condition, such as a heart attack, are not treated quickly, the results can be permanent and life-threatening.  Because the number of patients visiting emergency rooms had dropped across the United States by up to 50 percent, doctors are concerned patients could die at home or be left with serious disabilities. 

According to a recent AARP report, a national American College of Emergency Physicians poll released at the end of April showed that nearly a third of people over the age of 50 said they had delayed seeking medical care because of worries over contracting the novel coronavirus.  While some conditions can be safely treated with a telehealth visit or delayed until the risk is lessened,  severe symptoms should receive medical attention immediately. 

A heart attack can have the classic symptoms of chest pain or pressure but women, in particular, can also experience more subtle signs including trouble breathing, sweating, nausea or lightheadedness.  Heaviness, tightness or a squeezing sensation in the chest can also spread to the neck, arm or jaw.   If any of these symptoms persist for longer than 10 or 20 minutes, seek medical help immediately by calling 911. Delaying treatment can lead to permanent heart damage or death. 

Similarly, symptoms of a stroke such as facial drooping, arm weakness or difficulty speaking require immediate attention.  Sudden numbness on one side of the body is a symptom of a major stroke and without immediate treatment to restore blood flow, there can be lasting disability or death.   Mini-strokes or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) can increase the risk for a subsequent major stroke, therefore it’s important to get treatment quickly; minutes count in preventing brain damage and disability.

Severe abdominal pain, large amounts of blood in stool and untreated urinary tract infections can also lead to serious health problems and even death.  Among elderly adults, UTIs can cause confusion, a low-grade fever and without treatment, the bacterial infection can enter the bloodstream causing sepsis and sometimes death.  

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of serious illness, it is crucial to seek medical attention quickly.  A heart attack or stroke requires emergency care; call 911 or go straight to the ER if you have acute symptoms.  Learn more about what to do if you or a loved-on experiences signs of heart attack or stroke by following this link to the American College of Cardiology.