It may be disconcerting that Google tracks your searches, including those you may do for your health, but sometimes that tracking comes in handy. Like when someone does some research about how often people search for “chest pain” or “myocardial infarction.” Researchers from the Mayo Clinic took advantage of Google Trends to learn about how often people from the United States, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom searched for those terms before the pandemic and since it started. They were interested in seeing if there would be a difference in the number of searches given the reported decrease of emergency room visits for heart-related issues.
Since the pandemic started, fewer people have been going to the ER with symptoms of acute coronary syndrome (ACS). ACS is a condition that occurs when your heart doesn’t get the blood – and oxygen – it needs to do its work. When the heart doesn’t get the blood over an extended period, the heart muscle starts to die. The Mayo Clinic team wanted to know if fewer people were having heart attacks, or if people were having the same number of heart attacks and just not going to the doctor’s office or ER.
The results of their study showed that for searches about chest pain, “all countries had at least a 34% rise in searches, with Spain seeing the largest increase at 84%.” The researchers guessed that that drop in ER visits might represent people not wanting to risk exposure to COVID-19, and less to the possibility of a heart attack. But, while searches for myocardial infarction and for heart attack were about the same before the pandemic, they dropped once the pandemic started. “This raises concern that people may have either misconstrued chest pain as an infectious symptom or actively avoided getting care due to COVID-19 concerns,” said Conor Senecal, M.D., in a press release. Dr. Senecal is Mayo Clinic cardiology fellow and first author of the study.
Using Google Trends again, the team looked at other related searches. “Several rising related searches seem to reflect people trying to manage symptoms without health care intervention such as “home remedies for chest pain” and natural “remedies for chest pain,” they explained in the article.
So, did Google solve the mystery? Are we staying home more? The researchers concluded that although this information didn’t definitively prove their theory, it did support the idea that people who were experiencing chest pains stayed at home. They suggest that public health officials use the internet to better communicate to patients with chest pain that their situation is serious and that they shouldn’t let the fear of COVID-19 keep them from seeking emergency help.
If you are experiencing chest pain, mainly on the left side or towards the center of your chest, feel weak or faint, have pain in your shoulder, arm, neck and jaw, or shortness of breath, don’t bother with Google. These are typical symptoms of a heart attack. Often the chest pain will feel like a squeezing or pressure and it can come and go. Women don’t always have the same symptoms as men, and may feel more nauseous, light headed and faint. Get emergency help as quickly as you can. As the American Heart Association says, “… always call 911 at the first signs or symptoms. Doing this quickly can save your life. It’s still the right thing to do, even in this unprecedented time.”