Washington, DC—A cartoon figure of a nervous-looking woman makes a cellphone call in a new infographic released by the American College of Cardiology. In addition to listing common symptoms of heart attack and stroke, the pictorial strongly urges people not to ignore them and to get immediate help.

“Hospitals have safety measures to protect you from infection,” the infographic emphasizes, in an effort to overcome fears that may explain why fewer cardiac patients are seeking care in emergencies during the coronavirus pandemic.

The ACC points out that, while hospitals across the United States are grappling with an influx of COVID-19 patients, clinicians appear to be seeing many fewer patients presenting to the emergency department with heart attack or stroke.

“Due to fears of contracting COVID-19 or taking up space in hospitals, patients experiencing a heart attack or stroke are delaying their essential care, causing a new public health crisis,” explained Martha Gulati, MD, editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org. “Hospitals and catheterization labs are still treating heart attack and stroke, not just COVID-19, and are taking the utmost precautions to ensure that the novel coronavirus not be spread. The faster a patient is treated, the higher the outcome of survival and lower the risk for complications. No patient should delay their care.”

The new CardioSmart infographic, “Coronavirus and Your Heart: Don’t Ignore Heart Symptoms,” encourages patients to pay close attention to heart attack or stroke symptoms, particularly if they have a pre-existing heart condition, and call 911 immediately if they believe they’re having a heart attack or stroke. The infographic also encourages patients to continue routine heart care to ensure they stay healthy, which may be accomplished through telehealth or a phone call with their clinician.

“We encourage clinicians to widely distribute these tools to their patients. Make sure that patients know when telehealth is an appropriate option, and when they should call 911 instead,” Dr. Gulati said. “Clinicians should work with patients to ensure medication adherence, and always continue to advocate for heart-healthy measures that can be taken even in times of self-isolation and social distancing.”

As an example of what is occurring throughout the healthcare system, an article available online before print in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found about a one-third reduction in cardiac catherization ST-elevation myocardial infarction activations, comparing that with a 40% reduction in Spain, which also has had a serious coronavirus outbreak.

“A priori, given potential heightened environmental and psychosocial stressors, and a higher case of STEMI induced by viral illness (e.g., similar to influenza) or mimickers such as COVID-19 myopericarditis an increase in STEMI activations would have been expected,” write Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation-led authors. “Potential etiologies for the decrease in STEMI PPCI activations include avoidance of medical care due to social distancing or concerns of contracting COVID-19 in the hospital, STEMI misdiagnosis, and increased use of pharmacological reperfusion due to COVID-19.”

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