Which common diseases have been most undiagnosed in Spain during the pandemic?

Doctor diagnosing diseases
Diagnosis of diseases has fallen by 50 percent. Photo: LENNART PREISS / AFP
Diagnoses of frequent diseases such as melanoma, pulmonary disease or osteoporosis fell by as much as 50 percent in primary care centres in Spain in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a new study reveals.

The study analysed the difference in detected cases of thirty diseases in 2020 compared to the average for 2017 to 2019 and found that diagnoses of many of them had decreased by almost 50 percent. 

It was carried out by the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) based at Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic and was published in the journal ‘Annals of Family Medicine’.

The findings showed that in 2020 there was a drastic reduction in the detection of certain illnesses and diseases. These were hypertension (- 40 percent), hypercholesterolemia (- 36 percent), diabetes (- 39 percent), benign prostate hypertrophy (- 38 percent), osteoporosis (- 40 percent) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (- 50 percent).

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Other diagnostic declines observed were ischemic heart disease (- 48 percent), hypothyroidism (- 46 percent), melanomas (- 45 percent), chronic kidney disease (- 43 percent), and benign colon tumors (- 42 percent).

“Primary care made an extraordinary effort throughout the pandemic,” said Antoni Sisó-Almirall, principal investigator of the study and director of research at the Consorci d’Atenció Primària de Salut de Barcelona Esquerra (CAPSBE).

“We must bear in mind that primary care centers have detected more than 80 percent of covid-19 cases, apart from monitoring patients and their contacts. Prioritising covid-19 and its care in primary centers has produced a shift in the care and detection of the rest of the diseases,” he explained.  

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The study also found that there were some pathologies in which this significant decrease was not observed, such as strokes, heart attacks, and some cancers. However, there was an increase observed in mental disorders, especially anxiety, where the number of cases grew by 16 percent. 

According to Sisó, the results of this study help “health planners direct resources to where they are most needed at the moment, which is primary care, and thus reinforce this area so that it is sufficiently prepared.  

Data from Spain’s Health Ministry showed that 13 percent of patients who needed an operation in 2019 had been on the waiting list for more than six months.

While the average waiting time for surgery is 92 days, it can vary by up to 90 days depending on the region. In Castilla-La Mancha for example, the average number of days is 135, while in the Basque Country it is only 45.

According to recent statistics from Spain’s Ministry of Health, cardiovascular diseases such as strokes, heart attacks and ischemic heart disease, were the biggest killers in Spain in 2020, followed by infectious and parasitic illnesses, which included Covid-19. 


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