Heart deaths on the rise again

Deaths due to heart problems have risen since the first wave of coronavirus.

Public Health England data shows that at least 1,189 more people than usual have died of heart diseases since the end of May. For the majority of weeks since June, the number of people dying of heart problems has been higher than average.

Heart disease, also known as coronary heart disease or, officially, ischaemic heart disease, is England's second biggest killer after dementia, and caused 51,989 deaths in 2018.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that excess deaths in England and Wales for many health conditions spiked during the first peak of the pandemic in March and April. Then, in the 10 weeks following, the numbers fell back to levels seen before the peak.

Excess deaths alarmingly high

Excess deaths from heart and circulatory diseases in people under 65 remained disturbingly high even after the first peak - with rates almost 13% higher than usual between May and July.

According to the British Heart Foundation, delays in people seeking care, coupled with a reduced access to routine tests and treatments during the pandemic, have likely contributed to the rise in excess deaths.

Research by Oxford University has shown that 5,000 people missed out on heart attack treatment from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of March, the number of hospital admissions with heart attacks fell by 35%. The number of people attending hospital for the most dangerous form of heart attack, where a blockage cuts off an artery’s supply of blood to the heart, fell by a quarter. There was a 42% reduction in attendance for people suffering from a less severe form of heart attack where a partial blockage impedes blood supply to the heart.

Help for heart problems is out there

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, the British Heart Foundations’s Associate Medical Director and consultant cardiologist, said: 'We know there are tragic consequences of the pandemic for patients with heart and circulatory diseases, and these figures further highlight that delays in care are likely contributing to more deaths than we would expect to see otherwise. It’s particularly concerning that we are seeing this trend in people under 65 continue, even after the first peak of the pandemic. “Despite rising cases of Covid-19, restoring and maintaining planned cardiovascular care must remain a priority.

'Over time, heart and circulatory problems can become more urgent and delaying this care could risk avoidable harm. “It’s also vitally important that people don't let the fear of catching coronavirus put them off seeking medical help. If you think you are having a heart attack or stroke call 999 immediately - every minute matters and prompt treatment saves lives.

'If you have been waiting for tests or treatment and meanwhile have worsening symptoms or new concerns, get in touch with your healthcare team so that they can reassess your situation. Don't delay because you think hospitals are too busy - the NHS still has systems in place to safely treat you.' 

Dementia deaths lower

Despite this concerning rise in heart deaths, people dying of dementia or Alzheimer's disease - the most common form of dementia - has dropped to 3,120 below average.

According to Professor David Spiegelhalter, a Cambridge University statistician, this is due to the fact dementia patients were killed in such huge numbers at the start of the outbreak. Many of those who died due to COVID, will also have had dementia but the virus has been listed as their main cause of death.

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A blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart. Apart from the pulmonary artery and umbilical artery, all arteries carry oxygenated blood. Full medical glossary
A fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. Full medical glossary
Relating to the arteries supplying the heart itself. Full medical glossary
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An organ with the ability to make and secrete certain fluids. Full medical glossary
The death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction. Full medical glossary
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Relating to blood vessels. Full medical glossary
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