By now, it’s clear that COVID-19 poses a dangerous 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 percent of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 had cardiovascular disease or cerebrovascular disease, a condition affecting blood flow to the brain. And in February, 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 prevent getting sick.
Risks to Heart Patients
The virus directly affects the lungs, which means 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 the body. With decreased lung function, this can put even more strain on the body and increase the chances for heart failure when it 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 due to 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 in order to protect yourself from getting sick.
The best way to protect yourself from getting COVID-19 is to take the same precautions you would 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 traveling to 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 to protect yourself from another source of fever that could be confused for COVID-19. If you notice that you have symptoms for COVID-19 and suspect you may have it, contact your doctor right away.
The Cardiac Partners team of specialists are here to help you keep your heart healthy through this crisis.