Cardiologists are warning of people with heart attacks and strokes presenting late at emergency departments, which can have serious long-term and sometimes fatal consequences for patients.

The Irish Heart Foundation says fear of contracting Covid-19 is the main reason people are downplaying their symptoms and delaying showing up at hospital.

Seventy-three year-old Michael Ryan is a keen gardener, and it is keeping him busy at his home, in Corbally in Limerick, during this pandemic.

A long-time Civil Defence member, he suffered cardiac arrest seven years ago. But he knew the symptoms and acted immediately to seek medical help, and he says it saved his life.

"Time is of the essence when this happens to you, and if you do not get the right treatment quickly, then permanent damage could be caused to the tissue of the heart," he said.

He was successfully defibrillated, had surgery to insert four stents, and has been well ever since.

Cardiologist Dr Samer Arnous, based at University Hospital Limerick, says the treatment of heart attacks and strokes are time critical, so every half hour and hour can make a difference.

"What we are seeing here is that people have had the symptoms for days rather than hours, and that increases the risk of complications and death, and reduces the prospect of better outcomes. So ignoring the symptoms is much worse than coming to hospital," Dr Arnous said.

The Irish Heart Foundation, which carries out research and prevention work around heart disease, as well as funding patient support groups across the country, says it is hugely concerned about patients with potential heart attacks or strokes delaying going to hospital to seek medical help.

Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy at the IHF, said they are hearing of many personal tragedies of people who have had heart attacks and strokes which are being hidden by the national tragedy of Covid-19. Worse outcomes are caused by people not getting to hospital in time.

"People do not want to bother the health services at this time, but a major factor is they are simply petrified of going into hospital during the Covid-19 crisis. We're urging them that the only place they should be if they suffer a heart attack or stroke is in hospital," Mr Lacey said.