The stress we have all felt at one point or another during the pandemic has led to more heart disease risk, even in people without underlying conditions, according to research.
According to a 2020 study published in JAMA, the risk of dying from a heart attack more than doubled as it rose 240% during the first months of the pandemic, and researchers believe much of that was due to delays in care.
The European Society of Cardiology did a study that found heart attack patients waited an average of 14 hours to get help during the pandemic, compared to six hours in 2019.
“From the second you develop symptoms, the first call should be to 911,” said Dr. Sam Mehta, cardiac catheterization director at Rose Medical Center in Denver. “If you have a heart rhythm abnormality, they can save you. Your spouse or your loved one can’t save you on the drive to the hospital.”
Heart attacks are not the only heart condition on the rise. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, or SCAD, was 35% more prevalent between 2018 and 2020 than it was in the eight years prior. The condition occurs when a tear forms in an artery in the heart and is considered an emergency.
Incidents of broken heart syndrome, a real condition that weakens the heart, have also risen 10 times faster among middle-aged and older women than it has in younger populations over the last decade, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
“It didn’t really sink in until the next day when it’s kind of, like, I could have died. This came out of nowhere,” said Jennifer Harlan, who suffered a heart attack from SCAD in October. “I was the classic case of it couldn’t be happening to me.”
The rise in these conditions has led doctors to warn their patients of signs and symptoms of heart conditions, urging them to seek medical care at their earliest onset.
Dr. Mehta says common signs like pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulders, shortness of breath, and pain or discomfort in the jaw or neck should all be noted. Research also shows women are less likely to develop chest pain during a heart attack than men.