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Heart attack patients delaying treatment due to COVID-19 fears

Austin Health cardiologist Dr. Matias Yudi is urging people experiencing chest pain to seek emergency treatment, after finding that some Victorians waited more than 12 hours to seek hospital treatment for severe chest pain during the first COVID-19 lockdown.

"There is a sense that hospitals aren’t safe, but delaying treatment is far more dangerous. Every minute counts with a heart attack so a 12 hour delay is quite a scary prospect,” Matias says.

Matias lead a research team from Austin Health and the University of Melbourne, who examined the behaviour of more than 120 patients who came to Austin Hospital after a heart attack during the state’s first lockdown.

Their research, which is now in the European Heart Journal, found Victorian patients with severe chest pain were waiting four times longer on average to seek medical treatment because of a fear of catching COVID-19 in hospital, or of overburdening busy hospitals.

“We are taking every precaution with our patients so the risk of getting infected with coronavirus in hospital is extremely small. The very simple message here is that patients need to come to hospital as soon as possible if they have symptoms suggestive of a heart attack,” he says.

Matias says that delaying emergency treatment for heart attacks creates the risk of complications such as weakened heart muscles, fluid build up in lungs and a decreased lifespan.

“When you have a heart attack one of the arteries in your heart is completely blocked so the heart isn’t getting any blood or any oxygen so the longer you wait the more of the heart muscle that dies," he says.

At Austin Health, patients with COVID-19, or who are suspected of having COVID-19, are treated in separate wards and in a separate section of the Emergency Department to other patients.

The team are continuing the study during the second lockdown and broadening it to include stroke patients.

Read the full story in The Age.

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