When we talk about heart patients, we must remember that these are people who may also have high blood pressure and diabetes. The threat of infection has meant that while people have been advised to avoid hospitals, it has affected non-Covid patients of heart disease in a big way.
For chronic patients though, staying away from a hospital physically is not that much of a problem. In their case, telemedicine works because only a follow-up is needed for monitoring their condition. They can also monitor their blood pressure regularly at home. Gadgets to check their blood sugar levels are also available.
Seek early care in case of a heart attack
However, it is the patients of heart attack that seem to be suffering the most because they have been avoiding hospitals. I have national data from 60 hospitals that shows that between January and March and April and June heart attack cases came down by 70 per cent. Now, it is not that heart attacks have just disappeared. Rather, the reason is that people have been delaying going to a hospital or not going at all. Some of them are now coming in and reporting worsening of their condition and complications such as bad valves and holes in the heart. If care is delayed, then bypass or angioplasty becomes very difficult. There is also a high chance of death if such patients do not receive care at the right time.
Do not ignore symptoms that cause concern; report to the hospital to ensure immediate care. Most hospitals now have processes and facilities to ensure that Covid-19 patients, suspects and non-Covid patients are dealt with appropriately.
Do not ignore symptoms
If people have shortness of breath, they should not confuse it with Covid-19, since that is also a symptom of the infectious disease. It is important to remember that differentiating between the two is a doctor’s call. I would strongly urge people to report to the doctor immediately if there is discomfort in the chest, if a person who could climb three flights of stairs is now out of breath after climbing just one, if an elderly person complains of abdominal distress after having food—one that is relieved after belching or sitting down, since these are all symptoms of heart disease. Weight gain and lack of physical activity is also emerging as an additional factor.
I would also advise people to wear their masks properly—and not on their neck—and try to stay safe because though a majority of the young people may be asymptomatic, they do meet their parents and grandparents who are vulnerable because of their age and comorbidities. We cannot afford to be in denial about Covid-19, or non-Covid diseases.
Dr (prof) Upendra Kaul is chairman, Batra Heart Centre, and dean, academics and research, Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre, New Delhi
As told to Namita Kohli