By now, it’s clear that COVID-19 poses a serious risk to many people with pre-existing conditions. For those with a cardiac condition, there are even more potential risks. According to early reports, 40% of patients hospitalized because of COVID-19 had cardiovascular disease or cerebrovascular disease, a condition affecting blood flow to the brain. In February 2021, the American College of Cardiology encouraged patients to take “additional, reasonable precautions” for their safety.
COVID-19 can affect heart patients in a variety of ways. Here’s what you should know about how it might affect you and what steps you can take to avoid getting sick.
Risks to Heart Patients
The virus directly affects the lungs, which means that your heart may be under more stress than usual if you get sick. For those with heart disease, your heart already has to work harder to get oxygenated blood circulating through your body. With decreased lung function, this effort can put even more strain on the body and increase the chance of heart failure when the heart already struggles with pumping blood efficiently.
Getting sick can cause extra strain on the immune system that can lead to complications and an increased chance of hospitalization.
In addition, those who have plaque present in their arteries might be at special risk. Studies of similar viral illnesses have shown that getting sick can destabilize plaque, causing artery blockage and an increased risk of a heart attack.
Although research is still being conducted on COVID-19, we can see that other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, have been linked to heart complications, including heart attack, in patients with pre-existing heart disease because of stress, low oxygen levels, and severe inflammation in many organ systems.
How to Protect Yourself
As a heart patient, it’s better to be cautious to protect yourself from getting sick.
The best way to protect yourself from getting COVID-19 is to take the same precautions you would take during flu season. The virus appears to spread through droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes, much like the flu. Follow CDC guidelines, including physical distancing; frequently wash your hands; keep surfaces around you clean; cover your coughs and sneezes; and avoid crowded areas. If you get sick, stay home, even if you don’t think it’s COVID-19.
If you have a heart condition, you should make sure that you’re up to date with vaccinations, including for pneumonia. Cardiologists strongly recommend getting a yearly flu shot for all patients with chronic cardiovascular conditions for protection from another source of fever that could be mistaken for COVID-19. If you notice that you have symptoms for COVID-19 and suspect that you may have it, contact your doctor right away.
The Cooper and Inspira Cardiac Care team of specialists are here to help you keep your heart healthy through this crisis.