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Getting to the Heart (Screening) of the Matter

The next health epidemic may be underway, ticking toward a national crisis: heart disease.

Still Most Lethal

This may sound ironic since heart disease has been the number one cause of death in the United States for a long time, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s the unreported damage to Americans’ hearts over the last two years that could soon create a “tsunami” of heart disease and mortality.

COVID-19: Heart Disease’s Perfect Storm

Seemingly every aspect of the pandemic contributed to this impending emergency. It strained the health care system, deemphasizing care and attention for non-COVID patients. And those in high-risk categories went to great lengths to avoid contracting the coronavirus, even if it meant not going to the doctor. Fewer in-office visits had the unintended consequence of deprioritizing screenings such as blood pressure checks and blood tests for glucose and cholesterol.

These trends combined into a perfect storm. At the height of the pandemic, primary care visits fell 21%, and cholesterol screenings fell 39%. That’s millions of visits never made, and tens of thousands of routine tests not administered.

The anticipated spike in heart disease associated with unhealthy habits and missed screenings may only compound with recent findings that even mild cases of COVID-19 dramatically increase patients’ chances of developing cardiovascular disease down the road.

More Awareness, Better Care

On this World Heart Day, the message is clear. In the wake of the pandemic, it’s not enough for the practice of cardiovascular medicine to simply “get back to normal.” Heart patients – whether diagnosed or at-risk – their loved ones and their health care providers now have to make up for two lost years.

Appointments must be made and kept. Diagnostic tests must be scheduled and conducted. And awareness of heart disease must catch back up with the dangers it presents.