SHARP decreases in emergency department visits for heart attack or stroke symptoms could be creating a massive health side effect for Ballarat, Victoria, amid COVID-19.
Leading Australian cardiologist Garry Jennings said the nation was part of a general 40 per cent decline in presentations to emergency for acute coronary problems - and Ballarat was not likely to be immune.
Professor Jennings is Heart Foundation's chief medical adviser and a former Ballarat Health Services board member. He said Ballarat's high levels of chronic disease and risk factors suggested such a decline could be a major issue for the region.
It was the mild signs and symptoms that were most worrying, he said, with people experiencing more obvious symptoms seeking help He said cath labs, in general, were also pretty quiet.
Ballarat Health Services was unable to provide comment to The Courier's queries this week on whether there had been a notable downturn on patients in the Base Hospital's cath labs or if there had been a decline in patients presenting to ED with coronary concerns.
Professor Jennings wrote about the impact of COVID-19 on heart conditions for Medical Journal of Australia this week, finding people with heart disease were likely abandoning medical advice.
He wrote while there were direct high dangers for people with cardiovascular disease who contract COVID-19, there were clear indirect consequences emerging with people deviating from establishing health guidelines, "that may be caused by changes in community behaviour, either imposed or arising from fear".
Professor Jennings spoke about a similar pattern with The Courierlast week when new figures showed a 10 per cent drop in visits to general practitioners, despite increased access to phone and telehealth.
He said while not yet proven, the drop in GP visits was likely to be due to health fears for visiting clinics.
"The message now should be you need to be more careful looking after your condition with a health professional and, with all the precautions in place, a doctor's is probably one of the safest places you could visit," Professor Jennings said.
The message now should be you need to be more careful looking after your condition with a health professional and, with all the precautions in place, a doctor's is probably one of the safest places you could visitProfessor Garry Jennings
The Age has reported new evidence emerging of people having heart attacks or strokes in their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic. Diagnoses for cancer and other deadly diseases had plummeted.
Ballarat Health Services confirmed in late April the number of people seeking treatment at the Base Hospital's emergency department was down about one-third, from an average of 200 people per day, during the pandemic.
Work, school and sports injuries dropped with people isolating at home and those who presenting to emergency were predominantly sick.
British neurologists, writing for The Conversation, found it puzzling that far fewer stroke patients were presenting at hospital than usual rates. They wrote this could be due to staying at home with COVID-19 fears or abiding by social isolation advice. Or, it could be because there were fewer people having strokes.
"We know that strokes are associated with inflammation and infection, so it is possible that social distancing has reduced infections, thus reducing the number of people having a stroke," they wrote.
FAST is the easy way to recognise signs of stroke: Face drooping; Arms (or legs), in checking can they lift them; Speech, slurred; and, Time critical.
Heart attack symptoms vary between people. There may be pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness in one or more parts of the upper body. Symptoms can develop suddenly or get progressively worse.
Professor Jennings said it was vital anyone with a heart condition continue to stay in close contact with their doctor to monitor your treatment plan during the pandemic. Medical emergencies still required urgent care. Anyone experiencing stroke or serious heart conditions is urged to seek medical help or call triple-zero.