AHA: ‘Don’t Die of Doubt’

Heart Association campaign urges those with heart attack or stroke-like symptoms to still call 911 immediately

by Renee P. Aldrich
For New Pittsburgh Courier

America’s death toll due to the coronavirus pandemic has surpassed 400,000. In California, someone contracts COVID-19 every six minutes, as it’s currently the epicenter for the virus.

Tragically, over the past 10 months, we all know of someone close to us, a family member or friend, or someone in our neighborhood, who has had to deal with the virus. We have been living under a “shutdown” since last March. Schools are operating virtually, and many employers have their employees working from home. Others, unfortunately, have lost their jobs.

With all these statistics, and everything associated with what they mean for this country, as well as the drastic impact COVID-19 has had on our lifestyle, there remains an even greater risk to men and women; the presence of coronary heart disease. Strokes and heart attacks remain the number one killer in this country.

According to Dr. Conrad Smith, director of Cardiac Catheterization Labs, UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, “Cardiovascular diseases—heart attacks and strokes, are still the number one cause of death in the United States, with heart attack being the number one of those. A heart attack is caused by a blockage of an artery and we know that as soon as an artery becomes blocked, that part of the heart dies. And as such we have learned over the years that the sooner you can get to a hospital, and healthcare professionals can begin protocol to unblock the artery and re-establish blood flow, the better off you’ll be. The less likely you are to die, have a failing heart, or have issues down the road.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) is finding that due to the fear around contracting COVID-19—where many folks believe that if they go to a hospital during this time, it is highly likely that they will catch the virus—people are not calling 911 at the first signs of a heart attack or stroke.

DR. CONRAD SMITH, director of Cardiac Catheterization Labs at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, wants people not to be afraid to go to hospitals during the pandemic. Symptoms of a heart attack or stroke must be addressed immediately by calling 911.

These findings have led to very aggressive actions on the AMA’s part to get this message out to the public; if you’re home and begin to experience any of these symptoms, getting to the hospital immediately is paramount. Doing this can possibly ensure that a serious heart condition can get stopped in its tracks.

In order to do this more effectively, the AMA has entered a collaborative campaign between UPMC and UPMC Health Plan, aptly titled, “Don’t Die of Doubt!” Key aspects of the campaign include getting out to the public the following: In the event of a heart attack or stroke, do not stay home; Don’t avoid the ER out of anxiety, don’t die of doubt; Call 911 in an emergency; When seconds count, the hospital is the safest place to be. Simply put, the campaign emphasizes the signs of a heart attack and stroke and the importance of accessing care by calling 911 even during the pandemic.

Karen Colbert, regional director of communications for the American Heart Association of Greater Pittsburgh, told the New Pittsburgh Courier: “We found this campaign to be of paramount importance. Heart attack and stroke symptoms are always urgent; emergency responders as well as healthcare providers in our local hospitals know what to do even when things seem chaotic.”

The AHA campaign is supported with data from ImageTrend Collaborate, which aggregates de-identified, pre-hospital data for research and public health awareness purposes. Its data revealed that from January 2020 to April 2020, 911 transports were down 29 percent. Also, the ImageTrend Collaborate’s data found that there was a 70 percent increase in the average time it took for a patient to call 911 from when they first started experiencing stroke-like symptoms.

Globally, physicians have noted reduced admissions for stroke. Studies published in the AHA scientific journal reported a 40 percent drop in stroke admissions during the pandemic.

“Heart attacks and strokes don’t stop happening just because of COVID-19,” said Robert Harrington, M.D., FAHA, Arthur L. Bloomfield Professor of Medicine and Chair of the Department of Medicine at Stanford University, and president of the American Heart Association, in an AHA release from June 2020 obtained by the Courier. “With heart attacks and strokes, time is of the essence…emergency responders, as well as doctors and nurses at the hospital, are well-equipped to keep you, and themselves, safe while providing lifesaving emergency care.”

Dr. Smith also told the Courier that while the data shows that African Americans are getting diagnosed with COVID at higher rates, having a heart attack that is not treated swiftly enough is far more likely to kill someone or limit them for the rest of their life. That is far worse than their percentages of contracting coronavirus or dying from it. “Every moment counts,” the doctor said.

UPMC is working to reinforce these messages and is reaching out to their patients to make sure the messaging is not lost in all the “noise” surrounding COVID. The patients that already have known coronary artery disease and are currently managing the disease are at higher risk for a second coronary incident, than someone else who has never had a heart attack.

Dr. Smith shared that the best way to be safe from a heart or coronary incident is to not have one in the first place. It is important to control the things one is able to manage, like not smoking, watching their diet, exercising, watching their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and maintaining a healthy weight.

And if someone does begin to experience any symptoms related to a stroke or heart attack, Dr. Smith said without a doubt, call 911 immediately.

The symptoms of a heart attack include: Chest discomfort, especially discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes; Discomfort in other areas of the upper body; Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort, and other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. Symptoms of a stroke include: Face drooping; Arm weakness; and speech difficulty.


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