HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Hackensack University Medical Center is cautioning patients not to ignore symptoms of a stroke or heart attack due to fear of contracting COVID-19.

Many hospitals across the country have noticed an increase in people ignoring life-threatening symptoms. They are choosing to stay home instead of seeking care at an emergency department. When they do arrive at the hospital, the patient has lost critical time to receive life-saving treatments, the hospital said in a statement.

This is especially true for people experiencing a heart attack or stroke. The hospital cites a study out of Seattle that showed emergency admissions fell between 10 and 20 percent at six large hospitals in February and March.

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“Heart attack symptoms should never be ignored,” said Joseph Parrillo, M.D, Cardiologist and Chairman of the Heart and Vascular Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. "Heart muscle dies when the blood flow is restricted for too long. In the event that the heart attack puts you into cardiac arrest, there’s a small window of time that medical professionals can get your heart beating again.”

When it comes to treating a stroke, every minute counts. 

"We often say 'time is brain' as it’s critical to seek care immediately because the longer your brain is without oxygen, the higher your chances for disability or death when experiencing a stroke,” said Martin Gizzi, M.D, Neurologist and Director of the Cerebrovascular Diseases Program at Hackensack University Medical Center. “If someone is having a major stroke and it is caught in time, we can provide treatment that can recover function almost immediately, but if you wait too long, those deficits become permanent.”

According to the hospital, the following emergent warning signs that should never be ignored:


  • Balance issues;
  • Vision problems;
  • Facial drooping;
  • Arm weakness;
  • Speech difficulty

Heart attack

  • Chest discomfort – pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain;
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body like the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Other signs including cold sweats, nausea or lightheadedness. 


About Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center
Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center, a 781-bed nonprofit teaching and research hospital located in Bergen County, NJ, is the largest provider of inpatient and outpatient services in the state. Founded in 1888 as the county’s first hospital, it is now part of the largest, most comprehensive and truly integrated health care network in New Jersey, offering a complete range of medical services, innovative research and life-enhancing care, which is comprised of 35,000 team members and more than 7,000 physicians. Hackensack University Medical Center is ranked #2 in New Jersey and #59 in the country in U.S. News & World Report’s 2019-20 Best Hospital rankings and is ranked high-performing in the U.S. in colon cancer surgery, lung cancer surgery, COPD, heart failure, heart bypass surgery, aortic valve surgery, abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, knee replacement and hip replacement. Out of 4,500 hospitals evaluated, Hackensack is one of only 57 that received a top rating in all nine procedures and conditions. Hackensack University Medical Center is one of only five major academic medical centers in the nation to receive Healthgrades America’s 50 Best Hospitals Award for five or more years in a row. Becker’s Hospital Review recognized Hackensack University Medical Center as one of the 100 Great Hospitals in America 2018. The medical center is one of the top 25 green hospitals in the country according to Practice Greenhealth, and received 26 Gold Seals of Approval™ by The Joint Commission – more than any other hospital in the country. It was the first hospital in New Jersey and second in the nation to become a Magnet® recognized hospital for nursing excellence; receiving its sixth consecutive designation in 2019. Hackensack University Medical Center has created an entire campus of award-winning care, including: John Theurer Cancer Center, a consortium member of the NCI-designated Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center; the Heart & Vascular Hospital; and the Sarkis and Siran Gabrellian Women’s and Children’s Pavilion, which houses the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital and Donna A. Sanzari Women’s Hospital, which was designed with The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® and listed on the Green Guide’s list of Top 10 Green Hospitals in the U.S. Hackensack University Medical Center is the Hometown Hospital of the New York Giants and the New York Red Bulls and is Official Medical Services Provider to THE NORTHERN TRUST PGA Golf Tournament. It remains committed to its community through fundraising and community events especially the Tackle Kids Cancer Campaign providing much-needed research at the Children’s Cancer Institute housed at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital.

To learn more, visit HackensackUMC.org.