Doctors: Don’t ignore heart and stroke symptoms as pandemic continues

Doctors: Don’t ignore heart and stroke symptoms as pandemic continues
Health care worker pushes an unidentified patient into a facility. (Source: WVUE)
Health care worker pushes an unidentified patient into a facility.
Health care worker pushes an unidentified patient into a facility. (Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -As the coronavirus pandemic shows no signs of letting up, local health care professionals urge people with heart conditions or those with symptoms of a heart attack or stroke not to skip medical treatment. Also, the inflammation caused by COVID-19 can wreak havoc on even a healthy heart.

Dr. Sheryl Martin-Schild is an American Heart Association volunteer and Medical Director of Neurology and Stroke at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans.

“Please don’t die of doubt, the doubt that maybe your over-reacting, don’t worry about that, don’t have doubt about the ability of our hospitals to keep you safe and isolated from patients who are admitted with the coronavirus,” Martin-Schild said.

The American Heart Association said just because hospitals saw fewer heart attack and stroke patients come through their doors in recent months that does not mean those serious conditions have disappeared.

Martin-Schild said it is important to remember that time is of the essence after someone suffers a heart attack or stroke.

“Every single minute matters during a heart attack and stroke. When part of your heart or part of your brain is actively dying it’s critical to get time-sensitive treatments. And what I mean by that is there’s treatment that for which every minute that passes the effectiveness of the treatment goes down and after a while the treatments won’t be effective anymore,” said Martin-Schild. “When it comes to the heart it could mean living with a lifetime of heart failure or not surviving a heart attack and when it comes to stroke it could mean living with long term disability that keeps you from doing the things that you did prior to that stroke.”

Dr. Jeffrey Elder, an emergency medicine physician at University Medical Center New Orleans agrees people should rush to hospitals when experiencing serious symptoms. He said even though cases of the coronavirus are rising again in Louisiana hospitals are not overwhelmed like during the early days of the pandemic.

“At the peak of our initial COVID wave here in New Orleans we did see our total numbers drop in our emergency departments and we feel that people really were just scared to come to the hospital to seek care for other things like heart attacks and strokes, And so it’s really important we let everyone know that we do have appropriate infection control measures at the hospital,” said Dr. Elder.

A Washington Post investigation found that heart conditions fueled a spike in deaths unrelated to COVID-19 in several states.

Dr. Martin Schild is not surprised. “It is highly plausible that many persons who experienced heart attacks or strokes failed to access emergency medical care during that peak time of this COVID infection because they were concerned about catching the virus in the hospital or perhaps they were concerned about burdening our healthcare system but it’s unfortunate that across the board in the state of Louisiana there was a significant reduction in presentations with heart attacks and strokes,” she said.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to come to doctor, afraid to come to the emergency departments in the hospitals and we just want to keep pushing that message out there that we are here for you,” said Elder.

He said no one should be afraid to call 911.

“Absolutely, our emergency providers in the hospitals as well as via EMS are available for you and so if you have signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke it is absolutely extremely important that you call 911,” said Elder.

According to the La. Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard about 36 percent of people who have died of the virus had cardiac and congestive heart failure as underlying conditions.

Martin-Schild is not taken aback by that.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all, number one we live in the stroke-belt which is the part of our country that has a higher prevalence of cardio vascular risk factors like high blood pressure, like diabetes, like high cholesterol and the more risk factors that you have the lower your reserve to fight off a systemic infection like coronavirus,” she said.

The virus is hard on more than the respiratory system.

“Coronavirus causes a systemic meaning across the body inflammatory reaction and that inflammatory reaction can strain the heart function and if the heart already has heart disease and lower capacity and lower ability to tolerate that stress it can affect the heart’s function in a way that can lead to death,” said Martin-Schild. “It also can affect the way that the brain functions because of systemic clotting, there’s a tendency towards clotting off which tends to happen in smaller blood vessels which could then lead to parts of the brain dying.”

Martin-Schild said symptoms of the heart attack include, “The sudden severe chest pain or pressure but not everybody experiences chest pain or pressure, especially in women you may experience nausea, unexplained sweating, shortness of breath.”

And she said in terms of strokes remember the ‘Be Fast” acronym.

“The easiest way to recognize the signs and symptoms is an acronym called BE FAST because if you’re having a stroke you better be fast. The ‘B’ represents sudden problem with balance, the ‘E’ represents any sudden problem with your eyesight, the ‘F’ represents any sudden weakness involving the face, the ‘A’ represents weakness, numbness or clumsiness affecting an appendage, arm or leg, the ‘S’ represents any change in your ability to speak or hold a conversation, the ‘T’ represents a severe unexplained headache and it’s really important to remember that every minute matters in the setting of a heart attack or a stroke,” said Martin-Schild.

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