LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Many Southern California doctors are grappling with what they call the uncounted collateral damage of COVID-19: People suffering from heart attacks and other serious ailments are not going to emergency rooms due to fear.
One local heart attack patient waited too long.
A few days before Maria Loza of Lancaster was admitted to Loma Linda University Medical Center, she started feeling alarming symptoms.
"I had difficulty breathing and pain right in the middle of my heart," she said.
Loza had a heart attack but didn't go to the hospital. The delay caused significant heart damage. Loza said fear played a huge part.
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"Just everything going on with the coronavirus," she said.
Critical care cardiologist Dr. Purvi Parwani of Loma Linda University Health said, "We have some patients in-house that presented late because they were truly concerned about getting the COVID infection."
Parwani said as at other hospitals, she's observed about a 40% drop in heart attack patients coming to emergency rooms.
But it's not just heart patients who are avoiding going to the hospital.
At USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, overall ER patient volume is down 40% to 50%. The facility is seeing COVID-19 related cases, but emergency medicine specialist Dr. David Tashman said, "All the rest of the chest pains, abdominal pains and other complaints that we're used to seeing on an everyday basis, really sort of, well, we're all a little bit dumbfounded. Where did these patients go?"
Tashman said 911 calls are also down.
Parwani worries the COVID-19 death toll will increase when you take into account those who've died from heart attacks and stroke who didn't have to. Her advice is to not let mild heart attack symptoms go unnoticed.
"That would be chest pain, pressure that is radiating to the left arm going," Parwani said, "They can have jaw pain. They can have nausea, vomiting or just fatigue. Not feeling well and shortness of breath."
Parwani said connect with a doctor via telemedicine or call 9-1-1. And don't be afraid to go to the emergency room.
Tashman said, "It's safe to come and we're ready to take care of you especially if you have chest pain or bad abdominal pain or a new acute unexplained symptom that might be serious.
Loza said learn from her story.
"Don't be afraid to go in and be seen. I mean you're going in for a different reason. It's not due to coronavirus and you're going to be well taken care of the same way that I am being taken care of right now," she said.