HEART deaths are likely to have seen a sharp and widespread rise due to a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions caused by the pandemic, a leading cardiologist has warned.

Deaths from heart attacks and heart failure have been among the main causes of non-Covid excess deaths since March and it has become clearer why this has happened.

More people have suffered cardiac arrests because the Covid-19 virus attacks the heart and lungs while figures show fewer people sought help for heart attacks at an earlier stage during lockdown, in part due to fears of entering the hospital environment.

Added to this there is ‘hard evidence’ of a decrease in the number of people carrying out bystander CPR ( cardiopulmonary resuscitation) due to fears over contracting the virus from mouth-to-mouth breaths.

READ MORE: Admissions for chest pain halved at Scottish hospital during first month of lockdown 

Dr Andrew Lockey, Vice President of the British Resuscitation Council and a consultant in emergency medicine, also described as a tragedy that added to these factors lockdown may have increased the risk for those living alone who suffered a cardiac arrest at home.

A major study is under way to establish the extent of the decline in bystander CPR with Dr Lockey warning that decades of work to improve rates in Scotland through national initiatives and school lessons ‘may be undone’.

He said: “We’ve seen an increase in the number of people having out of hospital cardiac arrests.

“A couple of potential explanations for that. One is that Covid attacks the heart and lungs so it’s increasing the number of people who are sadly succumbing to Covid.

“The hard evidence is coming from the journals from other countries, from China and American, but also from Paris which is the closest and those have shown a distinct trend of cardiac arrest increases and decreased survival.

“But also particularly in the early days of the lockdown we saw a decrease in the number of people coming forward for care for things like heart attacks.

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“So that increased the levels as well. But unfortunately, as well as the increase in the number of cardiac arrests there is a decrease in bystander CPR rates.

“There is hard evidence coming through for this. It’s a perfect storm.

“It’s a tragedy because most cardiac arrests are occurring in the household.

“We realised that they may otherwise have been out and about and may possibly have arrested at work.”

The council has issued new guidelines for CPR in the wake of the pandemic with an accompanying video, advising people not to perform mouth-to-mouth, and to instead focus on chest compressions.

It also advises placing a piece of cloth or a towel loosely over the victim’s mouth and nose to reduce the risk of transmission.

Dr Lockey said: “The message would be that anything is better than nothing and we’ve provided a very clear strategy for doing something while protecting yourself as well. Doing compressions only – we know this is effective.

“We are carrying out a YouGov study to look at attitudes and to find out if people are more scared about carrying out CPR.

“It’s a tragedy because certainly over the past 10 years through things like Restart a Heart initiative we’ve really come on in leaps and bounds in terms of CPR rates.

“The Save a Life for Scotland initiative has been a phenomenal initiative. It’s in danger of unravelling all of that.

“The guidance provided in the animation shows how we can continue to perform CPR in an emergency, but it also shows how we can be mindful of Covid-19 and make

CPR safer for both the bystander and the person in cardiac arrest.”  

Barbara Kobson, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, added: “Every minute without CPR reduces a person’s chance of surviving by around 10 per cent.

“Hands-only CPR can buy vital time until the emergency services arrive.”

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In April, a leading cardiologist in the West of Scotland warned that patients with heart conditions were deteriorating and becoming unwell because they are avoiding hospital due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Professor Hany Eteiba, a consultant cardiologist and associate medical director at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, said some patients were coming in “much later than they should have.”

Figures also showed the number of people presenting with serious heart problems at at Scottish hospital more than halved during the first month of lockdown.

The number of people diagnosed with heart attacks at Dumfries Royal Infirmary also fell by 40 per cent, according to the research published in the journal Open Heart.

Researchers found that there were just 18 admissions for chest pain at the DRI between March 21 and April 20.

This compared to 40 between January 21 and February 20, and 35 over the four weeks prior to lockdown.

Heart attack admissions also fell from 30 in each of the four week periods prior to lockdown, to 18 in the first month after restrictions were imposed.

To watch Resuscitation Council UK’s new CPR video visit: https://www.resus.org.uk/watch