Don't ignore signs of heart attack begs Dartmouth-Hitchcock doctor

LEBANON, N.H. (WCAX) Doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center are worried about people ignoring the early signs of a heart attack over misplaced concerns that the coronavirus has contaminated local hospitals.

"We are safe," said Dr. Mark Creager, the director of the Heart and Vascular Center at DHMC. He is issuing a plea to the public. "It's safe for our patients, it's safe for our staff. So, in an emergency situation, please -- and I'm begging your audience -- don't stay at home and suffer. Come to the hospital."

But Creager says when it comes to heart attacks, that's not necessarily happening. He says the number of patients coming in after having a heart attack is "greatly exceeding" what they typically see. "If they wait too long and we don't have an opportunity to open up that artery, than the heart muscle does not survive," he said.

Creager says that could lead to complications, and in the worst case, be fatal. Heart disease is the leading causing of death in the United States, claiming nearly 650,000 lives a year.

"If I had a lot of chest pain or something, I would just go to the ER," said Michael Milne of Hartford. He hasn't had heart trouble and says he's not scared of the doctor's office. He is planning to schedule a dermatology visit in the near future. "You get to be my age -- I'm three quarters of a century-old -- we all got to meet the Lord sometime. I don't really worry about it."

"Definitely being safe and careful about it. Yeah," said Jerry Halstead of Lebanon, whose heart is also fine. But he has been to Dartmouth-Hitchcock over the last several weeks for other care. "We are being more cautious when we mountain bike and not doing things where we might end up in the hospital," he said.

But emergencies can happen at anytime. Symptoms of a heart attack vary, but include chest pain, indigestion, shortness of breath, and arm pain. Doctors say if you think something is wrong, seek care immediately. "It absolutely deals with stroke as well, because it's a very similar scenario," Creager said.

Ultimately, doctors say it is better to be safe than sorry, which could be the difference between life or death.