If you live with heart disease or any genetic heart condition, you may be in the high-risk category for COVID-19. In other words, contracting the coronavirus may be more dangerous for you than for the average patient. Since the pandemic took off, much of the focus has been on the virus’s risk to immuno-compromised individuals. In light of growing data, we now know that it’s not just the immune system that affects a person’s risk.
Which Heart Conditions Influence Your COVID-19 Risk?
The CDC identifies people with serious heart conditions among its list of “people who are at higher risk for severe illness.” The list doesn’t note which specific heart conditions influence a person’s risk, but any heart condition presents a potential problem.
The list also identifies conditions that are often related to or concurrent with heart disease, including
- Advanced age (65 years and older)
- Severe obesity
The CDC notes that the risk is highest among individuals whose condition is not well-controlled. So if you’re not currently taking steps to manage your heart condition (such as by managing your weight or taking a prescribed blood pressure medication), now is the time to make lifestyle changes.
Why People With Heart Conditions Are High-Risk COVID-19 Cases
Medical experts aren’t yet sure why there’s such a strong correlation between COVID-19 and heart problems.
What we do know is that about one in five COVID-19 sufferers experiences some heart injury or complications (this according to preliminary research).
We also know that some COVID-related fatalities are the result of cardiac arrest. In other words, these patients are dying not due to respiratory failure but due to heart failure. People with an existing heart condition are at the greatest risk for these types of complications.
There are a few factors that might be to blame, including:
- The severe inflammation that COVID-19 causes
- The intense stress of the viral infection overloading the cardiovascular system
- The possibility that the virus itself invades and damages the heart (though much more research is needed)
Though people with pre-existing conditions are at an elevated risk, the virus has been shown to damage the hearts of healthy individuals as well. Individuals have experienced heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, blood vessel injuries, and the types of dangerous heart arrhythmias that lead to cardiac arrest.
How to Protect Yourself From COVID-19 Heart Complications
The most important thing you can do is try to avoid COVID-19 in the first place. If you’re at an elevated risk due to a heart condition, immunosuppression, or advanced age, be sure to heed all CDC guidelines and recommendations:
- Avoid crowds and limit your time spent in public
- Wear a face covering when outdoors or in public
- Maintain at least six feet of distance from people you come into contact with
- Avoid touching your face
- Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, especially after touching surfaces that might be compromised
- Keep at least a 2-week supply of prescription and non-prescription medications on hand
If your heightened risk is due to a heart condition, take steps to manage the condition to the best of your ability.
- Eat nutritious foods
- Manage your stress
- Manage excess weight
- Don’t smoke
- Sleep at least 7 hours per night
- Exercise safely for 30 minutes or more per day
- Monitor your blood pressure daily
- Monitor your blood sugar daily if diabetes is a factor
- Take any prescribed blood pressure, cholesterol, or heart medications as advised by your physician
In addition, don’t cancel any existing cardiologist appointments. Some people are putting their doctor’s appointments on hold due to the pandemic. While this is a valid precaution, it’s much riskier for a heart disease sufferer to forgo medical oversight than to spend an hour in a doctor’s office.
What to Do if You Contract COVID-19 With a Heart Condition
If you suspect that you may have COVID-19, get tested immediately. Early symptoms include dry cough, fever, shortness of breath, chills, sore throat, and loss of taste or smell.
If your diagnosis is confirmed, speak with your cardiologist or general healthcare provider immediately for advice. If symptoms remain mild to moderate, the best thing you can do is self-isolate for at least two weeks.
Call 911 immediately if you experience any of the following advanced symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe chest pain or pressure
- Blue lips or face
- Difficulty waking or staying awake
- Confusion and disorientation
Because COVID-19 can lead to cardiac arrest in some patients (especially those with a heart condition), it’s also a good idea to keep an automated external defibrillator (AED) in the home. This is especially important if you have a heart condition or live with someone who has a heart condition. In the event of a cardiac arrest, the device may be used to restore normal heart function and potentially save the patient’s life. Make sure everyone in the home knows how to use the device.
When browsing AEDs for sale, look for FDA-approved models that are designed for the lay user. Most are designed with easy-to-follow voice coaching for CPR and defibrillation.
As long as you exercise caution and take steps to manage both your heart health and your infection risk, you should be able to remain in good health long after the pandemic has faded into a distant memory.