As Visits for AMI Drop During Pandemic, Deaths Rise

Richard Mark Kirkner

May 22, 2020

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The drastic drop in admissions for acute myocardial infarctions (AMI) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy has seen a parallel rise in MI fatality rates in those who do present to hospitals, according to a new report. This gives credence to suggestions that people have avoided hospitals during the pandemic despite life-threatening emergencies.

Salvatore De Rosa, MD, PhD, and colleagues reported their results in the European Heart Journal.

"These data return a frightening picture of about half of AMI patients not reaching out to the hospital at all, which will probably significantly increase mortality for AMI and bring with it a number of patients with post-MI heart failure, despite the fact that acute coronary syndrome management protocols were promptly implemented," Dr. De Rosa, of Magna Graecia University in Catanzaro, Italy, and associates wrote.

Hospitalizations Down

The study counted AMIs at 54 hospital coronary care units nationwide for the week of March 12-19, 2020, at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy, and compared that with an equivalent week in 2019. The researchers reported 319 AMIs during the week in 2020, compared with 618 in the equivalent 2019 week, a 48% reduction (P < .001). Although the outbreak was worst in northern Italy, the decline in admissions occurred throughout the country.

An analysis of subtype determined the decline in the incidence of ST-segment elevation MI lagged significantly behind that of non-STEMI. STEMI declined from 268 in 2019 to 197 in 2020, a 27% reduction, while hospitalizations for non-STEMI went from 350 to 122, a 65% reduction.

The researchers also found substantial reductions in hospitalizations for heart failure, by 47%, and atrial fibrillation, by 53%. Incidentally, the mean age of atrial fibrillation patients was considerably younger in 2020: 64.6 vs. 70 years.

Death, Complications Up

AMI patients who managed to get to the hospital during the pandemic also had worse outcomes. Mortality for STEMI cases more than tripled, to 14% during the outbreak, compared with 4% in 2019 (P < .001) and complication rates increased by 80% to 19% (P = .025). Twenty-one STEMI patients were positive for COVID-19 and more than a quarter (29%) died, which was more than two and a half times the 12% death rate in non–COVID-19 STEMI patients.

Analysis of the STEMI group also found that the care gap for women with heart disease worsened significantly during the pandemic, as they comprised 20.3% of cases this year, compared with 25.4% before the pandemic. Also, the reduction in admissions for STEMI during the pandemic was statistically significant at 41% for women, but not for men at 18%.

Non-STEMI patients fared better overall than STEMI patients, but their outcomes also worsened during the pandemic. Non-STEMI patients were significantly less likely to have percutaneous coronary intervention during the pandemic than previously; the rate declined by 13%, from 77% to 66%. The non-STEMI mortality rate nearly doubled, although not statistically significantly, from 1.7% to 3.3%, whereas complication rates actually more than doubled, from 5.1% to 10.7%, a significant difference. Twelve (9.8%) of the non-STEMI patients were COVID-19 positive, but none died.

Trend Extends Beyond Borders

Dr. De Rosa and colleagues noted that their findings are in line with studies that reported similar declines for STEMI interventions in the United States and Spain during the pandemic (J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2020.04.011; REC Interv Cardiol. 2020. doi: 10.24875/RECIC.M20000120).

Additionally, a group at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California also reported a 50% decline in the incidence of AMI hospitalizations during the pandemic (N Engl J Med. 2020 May 19. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc2015630). Likewise, a study of aortic dissections in New York reported a sharp decline in procedures during the pandemic in the city, from 13 to 3 a month (J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020 May 15. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2020.05.022)

The researchers in Italy didn't aim to determine the reasons for the decline in AMI hospitalizations, but Dr. De Rosa and colleagues speculated on the following explanations: Fear of contagion in response to media reports, concentration of resources to address COVID-19 may have engendered a sense to defer less urgent care among patients and health care systems, and a true reduction in acute cardiovascular disease because people under stay-at-home orders had low physical stress.

"The concern is fewer MIs most likely means people are dying at home or presenting later as this study suggests," said Martha Gulati, MD, chief of cardiology at the University of Arizona, Phoenix, in interpreting the results of the Italian study.

That could be a result of a mixed message from the media about accessing health care during the pandemic. "What it suggests to a lot of us is that the media has transmitted this notion that hospitals are busy taking care of COVID-19 patients, but we never said don't come to hospital if you're having a heart attack," Dr. Gulati said. "I think we created some sort of fear that patients if they didn't have COVID-19 they didn't want to bother physicians."

Dr. Gulati, whose practice focuses on women with CVD, said the study's findings that interventions in women dropped more precipitously than men were concerning. "We know already that women don't do as well after a heart attack, compared to men, and now we see it worsen it even further when women aren't presenting," she said. "We're worried that this is going to increase the gap."

Dr. DeRosa and colleagues have no relevant financial relationships to disclose.

SOURCE: De Rosa S et al. Euro Heart J. 2020 May 15. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehaa409.

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