Some other health issues developed unnoticed during the pandemic
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Various facets of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected health in a variety of ways that healthcare providers did not expect at its onset.
While illnesses from coronavirus captured the world’s attention, other health issues developed unnoticed. One of the reasons is that routine and preventative care plummeted.
“We’ve noticed increase in weight and lack of sleep,” said cardiologist Nelly Kazzaz with St. Joseph’s Health. “That leads indirectly to increase in the cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. We’ve noticed increase in cardiovascular events with increased stress.”
Delayed routine care means that many people skipped regular physical examinations. All health screening visits ceased entirely for weeks. Some patients skimped on care for chronic health issues like diabetes and hypertension. Even after the quarantine was lifted, many patients feared visiting the hospital or doctor’s office. These delays have jammed office schedules full as providers have sought to catch up.
“That led to decreased preventive care, including, mammograms and routine physical for blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar,” Kazzaz said. “Those numbers are extremely important for preventing cardiovascular disease.”
Kazzaz also expressed concern about the public’s mental health, “the biggest concern now. It’s something we can’t see as well as measuring weight, blood sugar or cholesterol. I’ve heard of people talking about that we’re in a better place than others, but people need to mourn the losses.”
Women in particular have borne the brunt of caring for and educating children at home while working at home and attending to the usual errands and housework—all with a lessened ability to care for themselves.
“We ask women to be strong, but we have to allow them to feel the loss if it was social loss of missing a friend, hugging a stranger,” Kazzaz said. “For a lot of us, this is very important. As a physician, I spent a lot of time in the past year or more listening to patients’ concerns.”
She added that some older patients come in because their visit to her office is their only human contact. During the quarantine period, that contact was eliminated and for months after, many older adults have feared going out in public because of COVID-19.
“The elderly population has suffered so much because mental and emotional socialization is so important,” Kazzaz said. “They aged a lot different and their acuity for remembering things changed a lot with lack of stimulation.”
With employment changes, some people lost their health insurance for at least a short period of time because they could not afford COBRA during their employment gap or were unaware of how to obtain insurance on the New York Health Insurance Marketplace. Kazzaz said that many were unable to fill necessary prescriptions.
After weeks or months of eating and drinking too much and moving too little, some people have become stuck in a rut of unhealthful habits.
Robert Berkley, doctor of physical therapy at Robert Berkley Physical Therapy in Oswego, has also noticed that many patients have become deconditioned and overweight from several months of inactivity.
“A lot are complaining of knee, hip and back pain because they’ve gained so much weight,” Berkley said. “They didn’t go to the grocery store, to work, and were stuck at home because they weren’t doing their active job. They weren’t moving as much. That weight gain increases pain on the joints.”
While most younger people can likely ramp up their fitness and get back into good shape, the deconditioning of older people has a more detrimental effect.
“About 15% to 20% of elderly patients are coming in because they were deconditioned during the pandemic,” Berkley said. “They have problems with transfers, stairs and everyday activities. For some of my elderly patients, we’re the only people they see all day. When they come to physical therapy, we’re the only ones to give them a hug. They’ll sit here longer than the treatment sessions to tell another story. The hour to two hours they spend here is very, very helpful.”
Emily Kolenda, doctor of physical therapy and pelvic floor physical therapist, also at Berkley Physical Therapy, has noticed among women patients an increase in pelvic pain and incontinence lately.
“We’re seeing that more and more due to inactivity over the pandemic,” Kolenda said. “Inactivity leads to more incontinence and pelvic pain in general.”
Kolenda and Berkley recommend physical therapy and more exercise and movement throughout the day, not just a set workout time, to combat these issues.
Of the positive health outcomes of the pandemic, many people have become more interested in working out at home. Many fitness buffs have brought fitness equipment into their homes.
“Over the past year, we saw a lot more people buying home exercise equipment as they couldn’t get to their club or gym,” said Andy Venditti, owner of Syracuse Fitness Store in Syracuse, where he sells exercise equipment for the home and commercial spaces.
Although gyms have since opened up, having fitness equipment at home can ensure people work out even if other factors limit their ability to get out.