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New Racial Disparities in Heart Attack and Stroke Hospitalizations Emerge During Pandemic

New Racial Disparities - Blog

Research Brief_ Disparities in Heart Attack and Stroke Hospitalizations thumbnail-BUTTON_v01Fewer strokes and cardiac emergencies happened overall during the pandemic, but people of color saw less of a drop in hospitalizations during lockdown compared with White patients.

Last month Komodo Health released an analysis highlighting racial disparities in serious health complications of chronic conditions. This unacceptable but status-quo finding is one of many examples of the heavier burden of disease carried by people of color in the United States — a burden fueled by a variety of factors including disparities in access to quality healthcare. 

During the pandemic, the impacts of racial disparities in healthcare have come under even greater scrutiny as people of color experienced a greater risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. 

Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations also experienced a disproportionate rise in deaths caused by cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease during the pandemic. To deepen our understanding of the pandemic’s dissimilar effect on people of color in acute conditions, we analyzed acute coronary syndrome and cerebrovascular incidents across race. Specifically, we looked at the 17-month periods prior to and after the onset of the pandemic, and tracked healthcare encounters for patients experiencing severe and less-severe manifestations of both cerebrovascular disease — acute strokes and transient ischemic attacks; and cardiovascular disease — acute myocardial infarction and angina. 

Overall, acute coronary syndrome and cerebrovascular incidents declined during lockdown. The total number of healthcare encounters for the cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases included in this analysis declined in the 17 months following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Total encounters for acute stroke declined 8.01% and total encounters for acute myocardial infarction declined 9.07% versus pre-pandemic levels.

Significant, new racial disparities emerged in encounters for more severe health events. In the 17 months following the onset of the pandemic, the rate of hospital admissions for acute myocardial infarction declined just 2.20% among patients of color, while that rate fell 11.47% among White patients. Similarly, the hospital admissions for acute stroke declined 3.30% among patients of color and 8.08% among White patients during the pandemic.

Overall, these findings add to the evidence that preventive as well as acute care was delayed or deferred during the pandemic and that people of color had more serious health events during this time compared with the White population. This may reflect more severe complications of disease, more frequent and severe COVID-19 infections, lack of access to preventive care services, and delays in care related to the pandemic. 

Measuring and reporting on these and other gaps in care is a key step in addressing them. We will continue to do so in order to support the multilevel changes necessary to address the racial disparities that run deep throughout our societies and healthcare systems. 

To read our full research brief, click here.

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