By Marjorie Broussard, M.D.

An increasing number of people are ignoring life-threatening symptoms of a stroke or heart attack out of fear of contracting COVID-19 in the ER. Every minute matters when it comes to treating a stroke. The longer the brain is deprived of oxygen, the higher the chances for disability or death. The same is true in the case of a heart attack. Heart muscle dies when blood flow is restricted for too long. If the heart stops beating, there’s only a short amount of time to get it beating again.

Warnings Signs of a Stroke

Seek medical help immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
• Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
• Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking, or trouble understanding speech.
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
• Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination.
• Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Don’t drive yourself to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call 911 immediately for an ambulance so that medical personnel can start life-saving treatment on the way to the ER.

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

The five major symptoms of a heart attack are:
• Chest pain or discomfort that might feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
• Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint.
• Cold sweats.
• Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
• Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
• Shortness of breath.

In addition, women may experience unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting.

If you notice the symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or someone else, call 911 immediately. The sooner you or someone else gets to the ER, the sooner treatment to reduce the amount of damage to the heart muscle can begin.

Our local hospitals have safety measures in place to protect patients and staff. For instance, heart attack and stroke patients who test negative for COVID-19 can be transferred to a non-COVID-19 floor that’s reserved for cardiovascular care.

If you’re not sure whether to go to the ER, call your primary care doctor. With a heart attack or stroke, waiting out symptoms at home isn’t good for you. The risk of putting off needed emergency care could be greater than any possible risk of contracting COVID-19 at the ER.

Dr. Marjorie Broussard is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Cinco Ranch Clinic and Katy Clinic. She helps her patients manage chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Her clinical interests include preventive medicine and women’s health.