Some Edmonton cardiologists fear a recent spike in cardiac-related emergency calls around the time of the city’s first snowstorm of the season has been exacerbated by delayed care and less physical activity amid the pandemic.
Alberta Health Services data shows there were 74 calls to emergency medical services for chest pain and 23 for cardiac arrest between Nov. 15 and 22, the week of Edmonton’s inaugural snowfall this fall, and the highest numbers since the start of October.
Dr. Benjamin Tyrrell, an interventional cardiologist at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, said that while more chest pain and cardiac arrest calls are common after large snowfalls because of shovelling, he believes factors unique to the pandemic are also driving the increases.
“(There’s also) a conjunction of deconditioning from the pandemic and patients not seeking medical attention due to the pandemic,” he said. “There’s the ‘COVID 10 or 15’ (lbs) that people have put on from less physical activity.”
Delayed surgical procedures amid the pandemic have also caused some people to get sicker, magnifying their health risks, Tyrrell added.
Dr. Justin Ezekowitz, a cardiologist at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, said the spike in EMS calls could represent people with worsening health after they delayed their care.
“They might have more advanced disease, and they’re a little behind in their care. There is a risk that the heart attacks could be larger,” he said.
Pointing to a 2017 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Ezekowitz added that people with existing heart conditions – particularly men – face higher risks of heart attacks during times of heavy snowfall from the cardiovascular activity of shovelling.
“The way humans adapt to temperature (drops), if it gets very humid, there can be changes to how blood vessels work to accommodate that. Those small changes in people susceptible to heart attacks can lead to a cascade of events,” he said.
Dr. Neil Brass, chief of cardiology at the CK Hui Heart Centre at the Royal Alexandra, believes snow shovelling could be a factor behind the spike in EMS calls, but he also thinks people are feeling safer about going to the hospital at this stage in the pandemic.
“People might be feeling more comfortable if they’re vaccinated,” he said. “People were more reluctant (before) to come to the hospital at times in the pandemic and they were afraid of the emergency department and catching COVID.”
Brass urges people to seek care if they’re not feeling well.
“The main thing is to realize that the health system is there, it’s operational. If something isn’t right then go to the hospital, call the ambulance, get it assessed.”