By ALLEN SCHAUFFLER
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
It’s a medical mystery, puzzling emergency room doctors, and cardiologists all over the world..
Call it ‘the case of the missing heart patients”.
We talked to St Charles staff cardiologist Bruce Mclellan about how this extremely stressful and challenging time has produced some startling statistics.
He says he and his colleagues have noticed something missing.
“We experienced almost a 50% drop between January and the end of March in our heart attack rates. We’re still seeing that degree of reduction going on through April,” Mclellan said.
The data from St. Charles clearly shows the downward trend in heart attack patients, just as the virus spread, news coverage increased and ‘stay-at-home’ orders took effect.
“We should have expected more heart attacks; because of the environmental effects, the psycho-social effects, of being cooped up and perhaps out of a job,” he said.
A time of extreme stress and unknown dangers, as we fight a sometimes deadly virus that attacks the body in a variety of ways we’re still learning about.
“So we have at least four reasons we should have seen higher heart attack rates. But in fact we’re seeing lower,” McLellan said.
Asked if he found that startling Dr. Mclellan replied “Very. Never seen this before.”
And it’s not just here.
A soon-to-be-published survey of nine major medical centers around the U.S. shows all of them seeing fewer heart attack patients than normal in recent months. The same trend, noted in Northern Italy and referenced in the New England Journal of Medicine.
And in the San Francisco Bay Area, hospital after hospital reports emergency room visits, in general, are way down. Heart attack victims just aren’t showing up, says a Cardiologist at Alta Bates Hospital.
“What we started noticing, is there was an almost 50% drop in patients with acute heart attacks,” said Dr. Junaid Khan.
The question of course is why?
And the easy answer is people are so afraid of the coronavirus and the medical centers treating COVID-19 sufferers, that they risk their lives and just stay home, becoming uncounted victims of the pandemic.
“Clearly they would be collateral damage” says Mclellan. “They won’t show up in the statistics of a COVID-19 related death but anyone who’s not seeking medical treatment now could result in a late death or morbidity related to their cardiovascular system because they are not seeking care.”
But McClellan also sees other possible explanations, far less grim.
“They might be just fine. Maybe there is an actual reduction. We tend to get out and exercise more; maybe we’re even eating a little better. So maybe some good habits are taking over. Maybe its less stressful.”
He admits the answers may never be clear and says more research is needed.
But maybe slowing down and staying home has been good for us, something to learn from.
Mclellan says it’s “absolutely” possible there’s an upside to the missing heart attack phenomenon.
“What are the common things we can find in their environment; home life, their activities, their diet,” he said. “What was different that reduced their event rate and can we replicate that going forward In normal times?”