Staying home and avoiding the risk of exposure is the best way to protect yourself from novel coronavirus (COVID-19). But avoiding medical care you need could put you at even greater risk.
As people all around the world were urged to stay home and stay safe, visits to emergency departments everywhere sharply declined.
Some of that can be explained by people avoiding travel or other activities that could put them at risk of illness or injury – but many ED physicians worry that people at home are ignoring the warning signs of serious and potentially fatal medical emergencies.
Emergencies like a heart attack or stroke still pose a risk during a pandemic, as do complications from chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
“Within OSF, and across the nation, EDs are seeing patients come in with delayed, and more serious presentations of disease. Conditions like strokes, heart attacks, and appendicitis are time-dependent, and should be treated as soon as possible,” said Leon Yeh, MD, vice president of Hospitalists, Emergency Services and Diagnostic Medicine for OSF HealthCare.
Never delay an emergency
A delay in seeking treatment can be the difference between life and death. In addition to the rising death toll associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians are also worried about increasing numbers of Americans dying in their homes.
“We suspect these are not all COVID-19 cases, but other serious illnesses that were fatal because the person avoided coming to the emergency department for evaluation,” Dr. Yeh said.
All OSF emergency departments have made sure they can safely treat all patients by screening and isolating any patients believed to be at risk of COVID-19.
By keeping patients separated and using personal protective equipment such as masks, emergency rooms are still a safe and necessary destination for those in need of immediate medical care.
Know the signs
Knowing when to seek help is the first step toward recovering from a medical emergency.
Classic heart attack symptoms include:
- Chest pain during exertion
- Shortness of breath
Heart attack pain will typically start in your chest and radiate into your left arm or jaw.
To recognize symptoms of a stroke, remember the acronym BE FAST.
- Balance – Watch for a sudden loss of balance.
- Eyes – Is there a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes? Or double vision?
- Face – Ask the person to smile or show their teeth. Does one side of the face droop?
- Arm – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward.
- Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Do they slur their words? Do they repeat the sentence incorrectly?
- Time to call 911 – If a person shows any of these symptoms, get to the hospital as quickly as possible.
If you’re experiencing a medical emergency such as heart attack or stroke, never drive yourself to the emergency room. The fastest and safest way to get the care you need is by calling 911.