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Cardiologists urge Alabamians to seek routine and emergency care for heart disease

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Cardiologists continue to urge Alabamians to seek routine and emergency care for heart disease.

This comes after studies show the number of people being treated in hospitals for heart attacks across the country dropped significantly in 2020 during the pandemic.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Alabama. During the pandemic, Dr. W. Quinton Foster, a cardiologist with Crestwood Medical Center and Huntsville Cardiovascular Clinic, says an alarming trend emerged.

“Something that we had especially at the beginning of the pandemic in March was that a lot of people were afraid of the virus,” said Dr. Foster.

Foster says across the country people stopped going to the hospital for routine heart care.

“We found in many studies that 50% decrease in the number of people presenting for heart attack and that doesn’t mean that heart attacks stopped happening, it just means that people stopped going to the hospital for heart attacks,” Dr. Foster told News 19.

It’s a trend that goes against guidance from heart doctors.

“Time is muscle, ok? So, the longer that you go without getting blood flow to that potential heart attack, the more likely that you’re going to have a bad outcome, a poor prognosis. The more likely that you are going to have more heart muscle damage,” Dr. Foster explained. 

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are among the top risk factors for heart disease. Health experts say routine appointments help monitor heart health. Dr. Wes Stubblefield with the Alabama Department of Public Health says going in for checkups also ensures patients can refill important prescriptions.

“If you haven’t been taking your medication, and nothing else has changed, and your blood pressure is running high, then it’s damaging those vessels and arteries. That can lead to heart disease and stroke,” Dr. Stubblefield told News 19.

Health care facilities have updated certain practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Officials with Crestwood say these changes include arranging furniture in waiting areas to provide social distancing. Other changes include enhanced cleaning procedures and making sure COVID-19 patients are cared for in a separate designated unit.

Dr. Foster hopes patients don’t skip routine appointments and make their heart health a priority.

According to ADPH, in 2017, 2018 and 2019 more than 13,000 people died from heart disease in Alabama during each of those years.

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