Abu Dhabi: Faced with fears about contracting coronavirus, cardiac patients in the UAE are shying away from seeking medical help, even during emergencies, leading to further complications, doctors have warned.
Speaking to Gulf News, they said patients are seeking medical help as late as four to six days after developing symptoms like chest pain and tightness.
“In our most recent case, a 44-year-old patient visited the hospital three days after he had started experiencing chest pain. When we carried out an angiogram, we found that his left main coronary artery had narrowed – a condition that can suddenly become life-threatening,” Dr Walid Shaker, cardiothoracic surgeon at Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi, said.
“We understand that people prefer to stay at home at a time like this. But it is essential to consult a doctor in case of certain emergencies, especially cardiac ones. Otherwise, they could be risking their lives,” Dr Shaker said.
Dr Brajesh Mittal, interventional cardiologist at Medcare Hospital, Dubai, said 30 to 35 per cent of patients with acute cardiac emergencies have delayed presentation at the hospital, compared to just 10 to 15 per cent before the coronavirus outbreak.
“Patients are obviously afraid to contract the virus, so they may be hiding symptoms for as long as possible. But it must be remembered that delays in medical intervention can increase complications, including permanent damage to the heart muscles, while also slowing down recovery,” he added.
As Gulf News reported earlier this month, patients have been delaying medical care since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, in an attempt to limit any exposure to the virus.
However, certain emergencies require prompt medical attention, and doctors have to intervene even before patients can be tested for COVID-19.
“In all cases, patients experiencing symptoms like chest pain, tightness and increasing breathing difficulties should at least consult their physicians, especially now that telemedicine options are available,” Dr Shaker said.
When patients present to an emergency department with symptoms, they are first tested for COVID-19. But test results become available only after 48 hours or more, but delaying treatment until then can be dangerous.
“Holding off on treatment until we can confirm if a patient has COVID-19, especially one with acute cardiac symptoms in unstable condition, can prove fatal. So we’ve been undertaking surgeries in full protective gear,” Dr Shaker said.
Over the last month, the surgeon and his team have performed about five surgeries while donning full personal protective equipment, including hazmat suits, N95 masks, as well as surgical gowns for surgeons, assistant surgeons and scrub nurses.
“It is difficult, especially as procedures can last up to six hours, but this is the only way to keep patients and surgical teams safe,” Dr Shaker explained.
According to Dr Mittal, other precautionary measures are also important.
“We minimise the number of medical staff in the cath lab, and only allow cleaning staff to sterilise it after an hour following a procedure,” he said.
The doctor has carried out four emergency cardiac procedures over the last month.
Experts around the world have also observed a 40 per cent reduction in the presentation of cardiac emergencies at healthcare facilities.
“It could be because fewer people are facing myocardial emergencies, perhaps as a result of being largely at home and facing somewhat less stress, or because they are eating healthier. But this trend is not yet fully understood,” Dr Mittal said.