COVID-19 and heart disease: What you need to know

COVID-19 is a new virus, and there is a lot we still don't know about it. Based on the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it appears that people with heart disease – especially those who are older and those who have more advanced disease – might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Don't let this cause you extra stress or anxiety – there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19 and care for your heart. Maulik Shah, MD, an independent member of HonorHealth's medical staff and director of the HonorHealth Cardiovascular Center of Excellence, answers common questions about COVID-19 and offers advice for maintaining your heart health.

 

Stay connected with your healthcare provider 

Your HonorHealth provider is here for you. They are now offering video visits for urgent care and routine care. To schedule a virtual visit, contact your provider’s office.

 

Why are people with heart disease at greater risk of severe symptoms from COVID-19? 

There is still a lot to learn about this, but we think there are a few reasons why people with heart disease may be at higher risk. Viruses, including COVID-19 and the flu, increase the amount of inflammation in the body. While this is the body’s natural response to illness, inflammation can cause the heart to not function as well as it normally does. Unfortunately, this puts people with heart issues at higher risk. There are three main areas of concern:

  1. COVID-19 seems to target the lungs, and the lungs are an important partner of the heart. Together, they make sure that the body has enough oxygen-rich blood for it to function correctly. When the lungs are stressed by a virus – like COVID-19, the flu or pneumonia – it also stresses the heart.
  2. When someone is infected with COVID-19, it can potentially cause fast or abnormal heart rhythms that can be dangerous. We’re also seeing that COVID-19 patients who did not have pre-existing heart disease are also at risk for these abnormal heart rhythms.
  3. Viruses such as COVID-19 can also cause destabilization or rupture of existing plaque in the coronary arteries. This can lead to an increased risk for heart attacks for COVID-19 patients.

What extra precautions should people with heart disease take to reduce their risk of getting COVID-19?

If you are at higher risk, it is important to follow the precautions recommended by the CDC. These include:

  • Practicing social distancing and avoiding crowds. 
  • Making sure you have extra medications on hand. If you need a refill, call your pharmacy directly. 
  • Being relentless about washing your hands with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoiding touching your face.
  • Staying away from people who are sick, including family members. 
  • Cleaning surfaces in your home frequently, especially high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, phones and tablets, and light switches.

What should people with heart disease do to manage heart disease during this time?

While it seems like everything is changing around us, try to follow your normal routine – stick to your care plan and maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle by: 

  • Taking your medications as prescribed, including ACE inhibitors and ARBs.
  • Keeping up with your regularly scheduled appointments. Most providers are offering virtual appointments, usually over video, and seeing patients in the office for more urgent needs. 
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet, like the Mediterranean Diet, and avoiding red meat and cheese.
    • If you’re buying more canned foods than usual, be aware that many canned foods are high in salt. Look for low-sodium canned foods or try to buy fresh fruits and vegetables if you can.
  • Getting aerobic exercise. You can safely practice social distancing while biking or walking briskly outside, or even walking briskly around your house.
    • You don’t need a heart-rate monitor. If you’re breaking a light sweat after 15 minutes, that’s a sign that you are exercising hard enough.
    • Aim for 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week (or 150 minutes per week).

What myths have you heard about COVID-19 and heart disease?

The biggest myth is that it is not safe to take ACE inhibitors, which a common type of medication used for the treatment of high blood pressure. Both the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association have recommended that people currently taking ACE-I drugs should continue to take these medications. The benefits of taking them outweigh the potential risks.

If you have any questions or concerns about your medications, talk to your healthcare provider.

What should people with heart disease do if they are having symptoms of COVID-19?

If you have any concerning symptoms, contact your provider. It's important to get treatment as soon as possible.

Contact the HonorHealth nurse line if you symptoms of coronavirus at 480-587-6200 or chat with a caregiver. They can direct you to the best place for care. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.

Note: This article was last reviewed on May 12, 2020. We will continue to update it as new information becomes available.

For the most current information

Our top priority is the health and safety of our patients, employees and visitors. HonorHealth is working closely with public health officials to stay up-to-date with the most current information and guidelines related to the Coronavirus. Visit our dedicated Coronavirus page for the latest information.

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