A new study conducted by researchers from the Mayo Clinic has found that the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an increase in consumers searching online for phrases relating to heart attacks.
In a study that included search engine data from the U.S., Italy, the U.K., and Spain, the researchers found that more consumers are taking to the internet to look up information about symptoms like chest pain. However, fewer patients went to the emergency room to be treated.
“Interestingly, searches for ‘heart attack’ dropped during the same period of reported reduced heart attack admissions, but surprisingly, searches for ‘chest pain’ rose,” said researcher Dr. Conor Senecal. “This raises concerns that people may have either misconstrued chest pain as an infectious symptom or actively avoided getting care due to COVID-19 concerns.”
The researchers tracked online searches from June 2019 through the end of May 2020 and looked at how often phrases like “cough,” “chest pains,” “heart attack,” or “fever” were looked up.
They found that consumers’ search habits have changed significantly over the course of the pandemic. The team found that searches increased for “fever” and “cough” in the earlier stages of the pandemic, but they eventually dropped off. However, searches for “chest pains” only continued to rise as the months carried on, increasing by nearly 35 percent.
As consumers began trying to identify their symptoms, they also tried to figure out how to treat them without leaving their homes.
“Some of the rising searches, such as ‘home remedies for chest pain’ and ‘natural remedies for chest pain’ -- both of which had a greater than 41 times increase -- were surprising and provide insight into patients’ possible avoidance of health care contact during the pandemic,” said Dr. Senecal.
Getting proper health care
While internet searches about health can certainly be helpful -- and have become more popular in recent months -- there’s no substitute for seeking professional medical care.
The researchers hope that consumers don’t completely avoid the emergency room out of fear of potential infection. Symptoms related to heart attacks or stroke are serious and life-threatening, and treatment is often best received when administered in a timely fashion.