ED Visits for Life-Threatening Conditions Declined Early in COVID-19 Pandemic

Richard Franki

June 23, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

ED visits for myocardial infarction, stroke, and hyperglycemic crisis dropped substantially in the 10 weeks after COVID-19 was declared a national emergency on March 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Compared with the 10-week period from Jan. 5 to March 14, ED visits were down by 23% for MI, 20% for stroke, and 10% for hyperglycemic crisis from March 15 to May 23, Samantha J. Lange, MPH, and associates at the CDC reported June 22 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"A short-term decline of this magnitude … is biologically implausible for MI and stroke, especially for older adults, and unlikely for hyperglycemic crisis, and the finding suggests that patients with these conditions either could not access care or were delaying or avoiding seeking care during the early pandemic period," they wrote.

The largest decreases in the actual number of visits for MI occurred among both men (down by 2,114, –24%) and women (down by 1,459, –25%) aged 65-74 years. For stroke, men aged 65-74 years had 1,406 (–19%) fewer visits to the ED and women 75-84 years had 1,642 (–23%) fewer visits, the CDC researchers said.

For hypoglycemic crisis, the largest declines during the early pandemic period occurred among younger adults: ED visits for men and women aged 18-44 years were down, respectively, by 419 (–8%) and 775 (–16%), they reported based on data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program.

"Decreases in ED visits for hyperglycemic crisis might be less striking because patient recognition of this crisis is typically augmented by home glucose monitoring and not reliant upon symptoms alone, as is the case for MI and stroke," Ms. Lange and her associates noted.

Charting weekly visit numbers showed that the drop for all three conditions actually started the week before the emergency was declared and reached its nadir the week after (March 22) for MI and 2 weeks later (March 29) for stroke and hypoglycemic crisis.

Visits for hypoglycemic crisis have largely returned to normal since those low points, but MI and stroke visits "remain below prepandemic levels" despite gradual increases through April and May, they said.

It has been reported that "deaths not associated with confirmed or probable COVID-19 might have been directly or indirectly attributed to the pandemic. The striking decline in ED visits for acute life-threatening conditions might partially explain observed excess mortality not associated with COVID-19," the investigators wrote.

This story originally appeared on MDedge.com.

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