The number of heart attack patients seeking urgent hospital care has dropped by more than 50% during the Covid-19 outbreak leading to unnecessary deaths and an increase in life-threatening complications.

The findings are from an extensive worldwide survey by the European Society of Cardiology and are published in the European Heart Journal – Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes (EHJ–QCCO).

The ESC survey of 3,101 healthcare professionals in 141 countries was conducted in mid-April. The vast majority of hospital physicians and nurses respondents reported a drop in the number of patients with these severe heart attacks coming to hospital, compared to before the Covid-19 crisis. On average, there was a 50% decrease.

In addition, most respondents said that of those patients who did go to hospital, 48% arrived later than usual and beyond the optimal window for urgent treatment. 

Professor Barbara Casadei, ESC President, said: “This is the strongest evidence yet of the collateral damage caused by the pandemic. Fear of catching the coronavirus means even people in the midst of a life-threatening heart attack are too afraid to go to hospital for life-saving treatment. There has been a lack of public reassurance that every effort has been made to provide clean hospital areas for non-Covid-19 patients.

“Yet the risk of dying of a heart attack is much greater than that of dying of Covid-19. Moreover, cardiac death is largely preventable if patients with a heart attack come to hospital in time to get treatment. What we are witnessing is an unnecessary loss of life. Our priority must be to stop this from happening. We must continue to save the lives we know how to save.”   

Increase in life-threatening complications in heart attack patients

A separate survey of interventional cardiologists found a 28% increase in life-threatening complications among patients with heart attacks during the pandemic.

The poll conducted by the European Association of Percutaneous Cardiovascular Interventions (EAPCI) surveyed more than 600 interventional cardiologists from 84 countries during the first two weeks of April. Nearly half of respondents said restoration of blood flow was delayed due to Covid-19 fears, a situation likely to lead to premature death and disability.

Professor Dariusz Dudek, EAPCI President-Elect, said: “The delays we are seeing in heart attack patients coming to hospital have significant harmful consequences. Patients who do not present promptly are in a far worse condition when they finally arrive at hospital and they are often too late to benefit from the life-saving treatment that we can provide.”