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Don’t Delay Cardiac Care: Keeping our Heart Patients Safe During the Pandemic

  • Category: COVID-19
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Don’t Delay Cardiac Care: Keeping our Heart Patients Safe During the Pandemic

An unfortunate trend that has developed due to the COVID-19 pandemic is that individuals started avoiding or delaying necessary care even in emergency situations. For some, it simply felt too “risky” to go to the emergency room or check in with one’s regular physician. When these patients finally do seek out medical interventions, they are often much worse than had they gone in when symptoms arose.

To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Dr. DeFilippi, click here.

“Many people who are coming to the hospital with heart attacks are coming at a later stage. What this means is that a lot of them have already suffered damage to their heart that could have been avoided,” said Dr. Vincent DeFilippi, MD, Cardiac and Thoracic Surgeon and the Medical Director of the Cardiac Surgery Program at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (SVMHS). “In most instances, this was just because they were scared to come to the hospital. By delaying care, you could risk your life.”

Despite these fears, the hospital is extremely safe when you need to get care that is related or unrelated to COVID-19. Hospitals have implemented intense preventative measures to ensure patient safety. All staff members wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and COVID-19 positive patients are kept in a separate area of the hospital.

“You don't even come into contact with them. So, it's a safe place to be. Certainly when your life is on the line, you should be there too,” adds Dr. DeFilippi.

Understanding Heart Disease: Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment Options

As a seasoned cardiac surgeon, Dr. DeFilippi has seen many transitions and advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Here, he provides a synopsis of the varying aspects of heart disease.

Risk Factors

Heart disease encompasses varying conditions across the “heart disease spectrum,” but many risk factors apply to this broad category.

Dr. DeFilippi describes the risk factors for heart disease as falling into two buckets. One includes factors that can’t be changed, such as genes, your gender and getting older. The other covers modifiable risk factors, which can be controlled to some degree, such as diabetes and cholesterol. However, the most significant and alterable risk factor is not smoking.

Type-2 diabetes also comes into play, as there is a strong connection between this condition and coronary artery disease. The good news is that a certain subset of the population can reduce the effects of diabetes or eliminate it completely if they get on an appropriate diet and exercise regimen.

Symptoms

We’ve all seen the movie or television depiction of someone clutching their chest and suddenly falling to the ground. While this does happen, sometimes symptoms are not so apparent. A more subtle pain that radiates down one’s arm or up through the neck may also indicate a cardiac event is occurring. Even less obvious is the sensation of heartburn.

“I've had lots of people who have come in and they're just taking Tums. But, their heartburn is not getting better and won’t get better because it's a heart attack. When you get those kinds of symptoms, it's always important to keep in mind it may not be the heartburn you think it is,” explains Dr. DeFilippi.

Finally, shortness of breath or just feeling “off” are both common indications a heart attack is happening or has happened.

Men vs. Women

Heart disease used to be considered more of a “men’s” disease, but women need to be aware it can be just as equally deadly for their gender. In fact, heart disease is the number-one killer in both men and women. Post-menopausal women, especially, rise to the same level of incidence as men.

One difference is that women tend to present at a later stage of heart disease. “Sometimes they'll think they’re having some kind of anxiety, and they aren’t given the appropriate testing to identify whether it is heart disease or something else,” cautions Dr. DeFilippi.

Treatment Options

Even as patients are getting sicker and older, Dr. DeFilippi says surgeons are still maintaining excellent survival rates with bypass surgery—approximately 98%. Certain technological advancements have allowed procedures to be less invasive. This speeds recovery and contributes to overall better outcomes.

“At one time, bypass surgery was thought to be something that was not going to be as needed anymore, but instead it's the opposite. It's more needed. And, it's withstood the test of time. Bypass is one of the most common procedures performed and something that's really been helpful for a lot of people; it’s prolonged a lot of lives and increased quality of life.”

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