Suspected heart attack? Don’t fear the emergency room due to COVID-19

In addition to a prompt assessment and potentially lifesaving treatment, expect a COVID-19 test and extra safety precautions.

Published: May, 2021

Even before the pandemic, people with heart attack symptoms sometimes hesitated to seek emergency care. But during the first wave of COVID-19 infections in early 2020, many more people than usual stayed away. From mid-March to late May 2020, emergency room visits for heart attacks fell by 23% compared with the preceding 10 weeks. And 20% fewer people showed up with strokes, according to the CDC.

Fear of leaving home and risking exposure to the coronavirus likely explains this trend, which has abated over time. "The overall volume at emergency rooms is still somewhat below normal, and we're seeing people who come in many hours or even a day after their heart attack symptoms began," says Dr. Joshua Kosowsky, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School. These people sometimes have signs of heart damage that might have been easier to reverse or treat if they had come in right away, he adds.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise

New subscriptions to Harvard Health Online are temporarily unavailable. Click the button below to learn about our other subscription offers.

Learn More »