Patients ignore cardiac symptoms over Covid-19 fears

Heart specialist warns patients taking ‘life-threatening risk’ over Covid-19 fears as cardiac outpatients decline

A leading cardiologist fears thousands of Irish people are ignoring life-threatening symptoms because they do not want to visit a hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recent figures published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) revealed the number of outpatient appointments in Ireland between March and April this year fell by 300,000, compared to the same period in 2019.

Prof Robert Byrne, the Director of Cardiology at Mater Private, said the decline suggested that thousands of patients were postponing seeking expert care as a result of Covid-19.

“It is crucial that patients present to a medical professional if they have any potential cardiac symptoms, problems or concerns,” Prof Byrne warned.

Symptoms of a cardiac issue can include chest pain, shortness of breath, pain or weakness in the leg or arm, or sudden and unexplained pain in the neck or jaw, he continued. Others warning signs can include a racing or slow heartbeat, light-headedness, fatigue, or easily tiring during exercise or activity.

The warning came as the Mater Private launched its ‘Listen to Your Heart’ campaign, encouraging people to educate themselves about the signs and symptoms of heart disease during Irish Heart Health Month — and to seek medical advice if heart issues were a concern.

“For many people, cardiovascular disease is not diagnosed until they have a heart attack, angina, stroke, or heart failure, so it is important that we raise awareness and encourage people to recognise symptoms,” added Prof Byrne.

The NTPF data also revealed that there were almost 700 fewer patients on the 0-3-month wait list for cardiology treatments or procedures compared to the same period in 2019, which suggested that fewer patients were seeking referral in the months of April, May, and June this year.

Prof Byrne, who is also Chair of Cardiovascular Research at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, said the evident reduction in the number of people presenting with symptoms of heart-related illness or disease during the pandemic was a cause of great concern.

“Thousands of Irish men and women die from heart disease every year,” Prof Byrne said.

“This problem has not gone away, and the correlation between the reduced numbers and the peak of the pandemic in Ireland suggests that Covid-19 fears might be causing patients to avoid general practitioners or hospitals.

“The deferral of routine check-ups for heart disease and for treatment of risk factors for heart attacks and stroke may lead to a lasting legacy of heart disease long after the pandemic has passed.

“While the nervousness around Covid-19 is completely understandable, patients should take comfort in the stringent safety measures that are being implemented throughout hospitals to ensure patient safety and comfort.”

Ireland has the highest rate of death before the age of 65 from coronary heart disease in Europe and approximately 10,000 people living here die from cardiovascular disease every 12 months.

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