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Pandemic trends marked by declining mental health and a rise in heart attack

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Infermedica have identified the key health trends of 2020

Nearly two million people interviewed in study show differing health trends between June 2019 and November 2020.

The report shows that the highest peak for mental health problems was in late October when more than 300 patients presented with symptoms.

Infermedica, the AI-based platform focusing on primary care, has launched its new report ‘What can we learn about people using symptom checkers?’

Based on the use of the AI-driven Symptomate symptom checking platform, the report explores the changing trends across the 1.8m check-ups it performed globally between June 2019 and November 2020, across both its desktop and mobile applications.

Through analysis of the anonymous data by the use of the AI Symptomate symptom checking platform, the report identifies some key insights within the symptoms and conditions being experienced, as well as the users of such T

The patient provides a list of symptoms, either via a mobile or desktop application, which are then analysed by the AI platform.

The AI has a medical database which is reviewed by physicians, and contains knowledge of more than 1,270 symptoms, 680 conditions and thousands of supplementary supports, to produce a list of the most probable recommendations of what the overall issue being suffered from may be.

Throughout 2020, the number of Symptomate patients linked with ‘heart attack’ grew. Between January 2020 and December 2020, it increased by 17 per cent (152 instances to 178). But the survey showed there was a growing trend of patients not attending hospital with heart attack symptoms.

A report from the New England Journal of Medicine showed hospital admission had dropped by 48 per cent.

What are we suffering from?

  • Across all user groups, ‘common cold’, ‘migraine’ and ‘IBS’ are the top three most commonly first ranked medical conditions by Symptomate (which provides a list of up to eight possible conditions ranked by probability)
  • They rank top in 5 per cent, 4.7 per cent and 4.5 per cent of all interviews respectively
  • ‘Heart attack’ is ranked 7th 1.7 per cent
  • ‘Major depressive disorder’ ranks 13th; ‘anxiety disorder’ 16th; ‘general anxiety disorder’ 19th

Most common initial symptoms and risk factors

  • Across all user groups, ‘headache’ is the most common initial symptom declared appearing in nearly one fifth 19.7 per cent of interviews; ‘feeling sick’ 15.3 per cent and ‘fatigue’ 13.8 per cent are second and third
  • The most common risk factor impacting health is possessing a ‘BMI of more than 30’ with one third 33 per cent of users experiencing it; followed by ‘smoking cigarettes’ 23.3 per cent, ‘hypertension’ 9.7 per cent and ‘high cholesterol’ 7.8 per cent

Type of users

  • The majority of overall users 83 per cent are aged between 18-44
  • More than two thirds of users are female 68 per cent

Apart from the report, Infermedica undertook additional analysis to identify better understanding of two conditions – deteriorating mental welling and heart attacks.

The following looks at the period of January 2020 – December 2020 and the 1.4 million interviews conducted in that timeframe.

Decreasing mental wellbeing

Across 2020, the number of interviews associated with declining mental health increased.

  • The number of times Symptomate recommended ‘major depressive disorder’ as a probable issue rose by 9.5 per cent (209 to 229)
  • The highest peak was in late October when more than 300 patients were presented with it as a possible condition
  • ‘Anxiety disorder with panic attacks’ was also a growing trend, it was provided as a probable condition 148 per cent more times (52 to 129)

Magdalena Wadas, a psychiatrist at Infermedica said: “The figures are in line with research that links the COVID pandemic with an increase in new cases of certain psychiatric disorders, such as depressive and anxiety conditions, as well as exacerbating symptoms in people already diagnosed mental disorders.

“The situation is creating uncertainty and everything from safety to pressures of lockdown, social isolation, loneliness and loss of income might contribute to depressive symptoms, anxiety, and poor sleep.

“We also can’t forget about the links between mental and physical health. Reduced access to face-to-face healthcare may result in worsening physical conditions.

Moving forward, technology can play a vital role in the diagnosis of mental diseases. For many, particularly males, picking up the phone and asking for help remains the biggest barrier, so unintrusive technology that can enable a doctor to provide actionable advice after just pressing a few buttons lessens the need for the necessary initial questioning that many can find daunting.

Growing heart attack symptoms

Throughout 2020, the number of Symptomate patients linked with ‘heart attack’ grew.

Between January 2020 and December 2020, the number of interviews where it appeared as a probable condition increased by 17 per cent (152 instances to 178)

What’s also concerning, however, is that there is a growing trend of patients not attending hospitals with heart attacks, with a report from t New England Journal of Medicine revealing that hospital admission had dropped by up to 48 per cent.

The fall can be linked to a concern of COVID, as more than one out of four adults would rather stay home than risk catching the virus in hospitals, even if experiencing symptoms. But embarrassment is also playing a part with 13 per cent of adults feeling that they’d be embarrassed if an ambulance showed up and they weren’t actually suffering from a heart attack.

According to the WHO, cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally. Taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year, four out of five of these deaths are due to heart attacks and strokes.

Jakub Chwiećko of Infermedica said: “Cardiovascular diseases are the globe’s most common killer and heart attacks play a large role in securing that unwanted crown.

“It should be needless to say that patients who don’t seek medical advice quickly can suffer life-altering effects or death but there are concerns which seem to trump the symptoms being experienced.

“As such, when patients have access to technology that can quickly determine how critical their situation is, they can then act knowing that they do in fact require urgent attention, and this should surpass other anxieties.

“Moreover, the same technology can help hospitals to prepare safe spaces for those suffering with this disease If they have more awareness of what issues are about to come through their doors, they can prepare areas that are truly isolated and safe for the patient.

“There also needs to be greater education around the different symptoms experienced by males and females for the same issue. For instance, chest pain is stereotypically a common symptom of heart attacks, but it’s only reported by 29.7 per cent of females who have been diagnosed. Instead, women can experience unusual fatigue, trouble sleeping and shortness of breath in the period before. Understanding that quite common symptoms can equate to a much more serious issue – or using tools that can – will save lives.”

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