For life-threatening conditions like heart attack and stroke, faster treatment means better outcomes. Here’s why you shouldn’t delay care when you need it, even during the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus Updates, Your Health | 4 months ago

Doctors Warn Not to Delay Emergency Care: “Our Hospitals are Safe”

For life-threatening conditions like heart attack and stroke, faster treatment means better outcomes. Here’s why you shouldn’t delay care when you need it, even during the coronavirus pandemic.

For life-threatening conditions like heart attack and stroke, faster treatment means better outcomes. Here’s why you shouldn’t delay care when you need it, even during the coronavirus pandemic.Since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic began, you’ve heard it time and time again: Stay home. In most cases, staying home is the best thing you can do to protect your health and prevent the spread of the virus.

But over the last few months, doctors around the country, including at Atrium Health, have seen far fewer heart attack and stroke patients than they typically do. And it’s not because these conditions aren’t happening – rather, doctors say it’s likely that patients are suffering at home.

Some patients report delaying care out of fear that they may be exposed to COVID-19, while others believe that hospitals are too overwhelmed to provide care for non-COVID-19 conditions.

While these concerns are understandable, Atrium Health continues to have the appropriate equipment, expertise, and protocols needed to keep all patients safe — including those who have COVID-19 and those who don’t. And now, experts warn that the health risks of delaying care in a medical emergency could be much more severe than COVID-19 itself. 

Our hospitals are safe and ready to care for you

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has changed the way we deliver care. But the health and safety of our patients have always been our highest priority, and that remains true during the coronavirus pandemic.

Atrium Health is setting the standard for COVID-Safe care by adding new safety measures at every facility, like rigorous cleaning protocols, advanced screening processes and separate areas for those suspected of having COVID-19. The COVID-Safe designation includes Atrium Health hospitals, which continue to deliver the highest level of care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“The most important message that I have is that our hospitals are safe for patients and healthcare providers,” says Andrew Asimos, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center. “We’re prepared and equipped to manage all non-COVID and COVID-related emergencies. By all means, if you’re experiencing an emergency, don’t wait to come in for care.”

Every minute counts for heart attack and stroke

When it comes to heart attacks and strokes (sometimes called “brain attacks”), the danger of delaying treatment is far higher than the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 at the hospital.

Know the symptoms of heart attack

When a heart attack strikes, immediate medical care is critical. Atrium Health’s hospitals provide highly skilled care in the fastest time possible, increasing the odds of survival and full recovery.

But during COVID-19, Atrium Health has seen nearly 60% fewer heart attack patients than expected – a drop that has doctors worried that heart attack patients are putting themselves in danger by avoiding the hospital.

“Know that if you need care for a heart attack, it will be safe,” says Troy Leo, MD, vice chief of cardiology at Atrium Health’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. “The risk of getting COVID or being exposed to COVID in the hospital is extremely low because of all the precautions we’ve taken.”

When it comes to heart attacks, the best way to protect yourself is to know the signs – and to get care right away if you need it. The most common symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Sudden pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Pain in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw or upper abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Discomfort in the stomach, neck or back

Not all heart attacks come on suddenly or with dramatic symptoms. Sometimes symptoms develop slowly over several hours, or come and go. If you suspect you or someone else is having a heart attack, call 911 right away.

Watch for warning signs of stroke

A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. And the faster blood flow is restored to the brain, the better the chances for recovery.

“Stroke is a medical emergency, and every minute counts,” says Rahul Karamchandani, MD, stroke medical director at Carolinas Medical Center. “Each minute, up to 2 million brain cells are at risk of being damaged.”

At Atrium Health, which has the region’s largest stroke program, the volume of stroke patients is down about 40% compared to January and February of this year. According to Dr. Karamchandani, even the sickest stroke patients have been hesitant to seek care, waiting an average of 2 to 3 hours longer in the month of April.

For life-threatening conditions like heart attack and stroke, faster treatment means better outcomes. Here’s why you shouldn’t delay care when you need it, even during the coronavirus pandemic.

You may be reluctant to call emergency services if you aren’t sure whether someone’s having a stroke, but people who get treatment sooner have a greater of recovering without a major disability. If you notice even one sign of a stroke, don’t wait to call for help.

To remember the common warning signs of stroke, use the acronym BE FAST:

  • Balance loss
  • Eyesight changes
  • Facial drooping
  • Arm/leg weakness
  • Speech difficulty
  • Time to call 911

Want to help spread the word? Share this infographic about the signs of stroke with your community – it could save a life.

Don’t wait for care

Atrium Health is always here for you. And during this challenging time, we’re going to great lengths to make sure we deliver COVID-Safe care, when and where you need it.

Our emergency rooms are staffed by highly trained healthcare providers 24/7, and they’re all backed by the breadth and depth of Carolinas Medical Center, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center. See emergency room locations and wait times here.

When to call 911

In some cases, you may be able to drive to the emergency room. But for certain medical emergencies, such as a heart attack or stroke, calling 911 for an ambulance is always the right decision. First responders can often begin delivering life-saving treatment in the ambulance and can send critical information to prepare the hospital for your arrival.

If you or your loved one needs to call 911, be sure to describe all of your symptoms and be prepared to answer questions specifically related to COVID-19. This is an important step to help protect first responders and get you the care you need as quickly and safely as possible.

Non-emergency care is still available, too

As you take steps to protect yourself from COVID-19, it’s important to continue caring for your overall health. That includes keeping up with the care you need from your primary care doctor or specialist, which could help you prevent a medical emergency in the future.

We’re still offering routine care using whichever method is best for your health – whether that’s in person, on the phone or by video chat. If you need to schedule a new appointment, call your doctor’s office or visit AtriumHealth.org/GetCareNow to find other care options.

Now, more than ever, Atrium Health is dedicated to keeping you and your loved ones safe and informed. We know the news about COVID-19 can be scary. But the truth is, most people who get COVID-19 will be able to safely recover at home. The same isn’t true for emergencies like stroke and heart attack, which need immediate medical attention for recovery. If you have a medical emergency, don’t delay seeking care. 


To learn more about the innovative steps we’re taking to keep you safe, visit AtriumHealth.org/Safe. For the latest information and updates about COVID-19, visit AtriumHealth.org/Coronavirus.