It has now been a few months since the news stories about the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 have been on our screens 24/7. The virus is a matter of concern to everyone, but especially to those with other health conditions that could make COVID-19 even more dangerous. That includes cardiac patients. How does COVID-19 affect heart patients? Does having a heart condition mean you are more likely to contract COVID-19, or to become more seriously ill if you do?
As we learn more about this novel coronavirus, we get more information about what it means for those with other serious health conditions (also called comorbid conditions). Here are some of the questions we have heard about COVID-19 from our clients and others, and the most current answers we have available.
When it first emerged, the coronavirus looked like it primarily affected the respiratory system. That is still largely true, although other, non-respiratory symptoms (like decreased sense of taste) have become known. Just because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, however, doesn’t mean that it has nothing to do with your heart.
The heart and lungs work together: the lungs draw in oxygen, and the heart pumps the oxygenated blood out to the body. When the lungs are not working at top capacity, the burden on the heart increases; it must work even harder to get oxygen to the parts of the body that need it. For a person who already has cardiac issues, that can put extra stress on an already-weakened heart muscle.
If you have coronary disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, heart valve problems, or a history of stroke, you may be at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.
In addition to being at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, you may also be at higher risk of catching the virus in the first place. But whether or not you have a history of heart disease, you should be diligent about taking measures to avoid infection.
These are no doubt familiar to you by now: diligent, frequent hand-washing for 20 seconds or more; avoidance of surfaces that could be contaminated with the coronavirus; and self-isolation to avoid contact with infected individuals. If you must go out, practice social distancing. Asymptomatic or presymptomatic people can still spread the virus. Remaining well-hydrated and getting enough rest is important for your heart and health at any time, and especially during this pandemic.
You may have heard that some patients with COVID-19 develop serious blood clots, which of course is a matter of concern for cardiac patients. Researchers are not yet sure why this happens, but there is a theory that it is caused by infection of the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels.
Unfortunately, because this virus is so new, doctors and researchers are learning about it as they go along. As someone has described it, it’s like trying to fly a plane while you’re still building it. A lack of information about the virus has, unfortunately, led to rumors and misinformation that can be as dangerous as the virus itself.
One of those rumors is that angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (commonly called ACE inhibitors, or ACE-i) and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB) could put patients at risk for greater COVID-19 complications. Those medications are prescribed for heart failure, hypertension, and ischemic heart disease.
The American Heart Association (AHA), the Heart Failure Society of America, and the American College of Cardiology have published a joint statement debunking that rumor. If you have been prescribed one of those medications, you should not discontinue it without your doctor or cardiologist’s recommendation.
COVID-19 shares many symptoms with other illnesses, but you should not assume that you do, or do not have COVID-19 if you have any of the symptoms below. Contact your doctor if you experience:
Your doctor may schedule you for a telehealth visit. If symptoms are severe, you may be directed to go to the emergency room.
If you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or other cardiac emergency, you should not avoid seeking emergency care. It’s understandable that many patients are worried about catching the coronavirus, but a heart attack could present a much more serious and immediate threat. Many cardiologists have expressed worry that their patients will not get the care they need because they fear catching COVID-19.
As for your regularly-scheduled cardiac care, it is likely that your doctor’s office is taking extra precautions to protect both staff and patients. Contact your care providers to learn what they are doing to keep you safe.
We understand that this is a stressful time for everyone, and especially for those with cardiovascular disease. If you believe that your doctor, hospital, or healthcare provider has not given you adequate care or committed medical malpractice, we invite you to contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a remote consultation.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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