Heart Attack Mortality Increases Amid Pandemic: Study

August 18, 2020 Updated: August 18, 2020

People with heart problems are far less likely to visit the hospital amid the pandemic over fears of contracting COVID-19, according to a new study.

The study, which was published on Aug. 7, aimed to find out how COVID-19 has impacted those who have been diagnosed with heart issues.

Researchers at the Providence Heart Institute in Portland, Oregon, noticed a decrease in the number of people hospitalized with heart issues, despite there being no significant difference in the treatment of those diagnosed with heart issues. Regardless, the mortality rate for people with heart attacks or heart issues continued to increase despite these changes.

However, the researchers indicated that there are several factors contributing to the decrease in the number of hospitalizations. One of the most worrisome ones is that individuals who are diagnosed with heart attacks are hesitant to seek medical attention or visit health care facilities due to a fear of becoming infected with COVID-19.

The primary focus of the study was not only to determine the relationship between COVID-19 and fewer hospitalizations, but also whether there is a difference between hospitalizations before and after the pandemic hit.

The study was conducted on individuals aged 18 and older who were diagnosed with a heart attack and were admitted to the hospital between the dates of Dec. 30, 2018, and May 16, 2020. The results were drawn from 15,244 heart attack hospitalizations of 14,724 patients.

It was conducted in one of the 49 hospitals in the Providence St. Joseph Health System across Alaska, Washington, Montana, Oregon, California, and Texas.

The data was separated into three different categories—the before COVID-19 phase, which ran from Dec. 28, 2018 through Feb. 22, 2020; the early COVID-19 phase, which ran from Feb. 23 through March 28, 2020; and finally, the later COVID-19 phase, which ran from March 29 through May 16.

“Recent studies have revealed a substantial decrease in hospitalization rates for [heart attacks]. Reports from Austria, Italy, and the U.S. (California) have noted lower admission rates for [heart attacks],” the study stated.

Starting on Feb. 23, and over the course of 5 weeks, there was a 19 percent decrease of heart attack hospitalizations. This took place during the early period of COVID-19, as it wasn’t until March that the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

However, hospitalizations did increase for the following 5 weeks, at a rate of 10 percent per week, marking this the start of the late COVID-19 phase. This could also be due in part to the fact that people would be seeking out hospital care for their heart attacks regardless of the pandemic.

These were consistent in all six states.

The study concluded that a large number of people avoided hospitals in fear of COVID-19, but while the late COVID-19 phase had seen some increase in the number of hospitalizations, it also saw a higher risk of in-hospital mortality rates.

“In the weeks and months to come, clinicians may see greater numbers of patients with more severe manifestations of [heart attacks]. With the uncertainty on the timing of a COVID-19 vaccine, this study reinforces the need to address important care processes for patients with [heart attacks] to help mitigate further risk,” the study stated.