As hospitals in many parts of the world face an onslaught of coronavirus patients, doctors are noting a strange phenomenon — cases of heart attacks, strokes, and other emergencies are strangely absent.
In a New York Times opinion piece, Dr. Harlan Krumholz wrote that at the normally overcrowded hospital where he works, providers who specialize in saving lives during heart attacks and strokes have little to do.
"In an informal Twitter poll by @angioplastyorg, an online community of cardiologists, almost half of the respondents reported that they are seeing a 40% to 60% reduction in admissions for heart attacks," Krumholz wrote. "About 20% reported more than a 60% reduction."
Hospitals in Spain reported a similar decline, Krumholz noted, as have professionals who treat patients with gall bladder emergencies or appendicitis.
He posited that changes to social life may have reduced instances of overeating, excessive drinking, or intense activity, which can trigger emergencies such as heart attacks. But, large-scale stressors, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, "are risk factors for heart attacks."
Krumholz addressed an idea of great concern to health care providers: that patients in need of urgent care for dangerous medical conditions are afraid to seek help and are staying home instead.
"...we can safely provide care for those people who are not sick from COVID-19," Krumholz wrote, urging people to seek care for emergencies. "Masks and protective gear for health care workers and patients go a long way to ensure a safe environment."