Googling "chest pain" during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Published: January, 2021

Google searches for "chest pain" spiked in March and April of 2020 during the initial sharp rise in COVID-19 infections, according to a new study. The findings suggest that people were attempting to self-diagnose heart attacks — and may explain why fewer people sought treatment for heart attacks in hospitals during the pandemic.

The study relied on Google Trends, a tool that monitors search term queries over time. The authors looked at searches for "chest pain" and five control terms — "toothache," "abdominal pain," "knee pain," "heart attack," and "stroke" — from January 2017 through May 2020. Searches for chest pain (a common symptom of heart attack but not COVID-19) spiked in states with high rates of COVID-19 infection (New York, New Jersey, and Illinois), while searches for other terms stayed steady.

Fear of contracting the virus may have led people to self-triage instead of going to the hospital, says the authors, whose study was published online Sept. 30, 2020, by the American Heart Journal. As they note, the odds of dying of COVID-19 are around 1%. But as many as half of people who do not receive treatment for a heart attack will die within a month.

Image: Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

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