People with heart conditions are more likely to face severe symptoms from COVID-19. What can they do to stay extra safe during this time?
COVID-19 weighs heavily on everyone’s minds – but for people with underlying heart conditions, the situation may be especially worrying.
According to the American Heart Association, people with heart disease, including high blood pressure and congenital heart defects, are more likely to develop more severe symptoms and complications when infected with COVID-19.
If you, or a loved one, are living with a heart condition, here’s what you should know and what you can do.
How does COVID-19 affect the heart?
When the COVID-19 virus enters the body, it primarily targets the respiratory tract and the lungs. When the lungs are infected, oxygen supply to the heart is diminished, placing a huge stress on the heart. For someone with heart disease, where the heart may already have problems with pumping efficiently, this could increase the chances of a heart attack or heart failure.
The COVID-19 virus can also directly infect the heart muscles, causing inflammation and swelling of the heart muscles, heart muscle injury, or trigger off arrhythmias.
Patients with severe COVID-19 infection also appear to have a higher tendency to have blood clots form within the blood vessels. This can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Furthermore, someone with a heart condition might also have a weaker immune system, making it harder for them to fight off the virus. This means that if they get infected, the virus is more likely to stay longer and cause complications.
How can you stay safe as a heart disease patient?
You’ve probably heard this many times, but practising safe distancing and good personal hygiene is our best defence against the virus. If you have a heart condition, this is especially critical! Always follow these golden rules:
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds each time
Stay home as much as possible
When you have to leave the house, wear a mask and keep at least a 1m away from other people
Avoid touching any part of your face without first washing your hands
See a doctor immediately if you feel unwell
In addition to the above, heart patients can protect themselves better with these tips:
Stay in close contact with your healthcare providers, and find out if online consultations are available
Ensure you have a sufficient supply of your prescribed medications, and find out if your healthcare provider can deliver refills
Keep handy a list of support contacts – such as relatives, friends and neighbours – whom you can call on for help if needed
Stay connected with family and friends through voice or video calls
Ensure that your vaccinations, such as Influenza and Pneumococcal vaccines, are up-to-date
When buying groceries, check ingredient labels and pick heart-healthy choices, such as lower sodium options
What are the ways to keep your heart healthy?
Staying safe and healthy doesn’t stop at taking precautions against COVID-19. There are everyday lifestyle changes you can make to strengthen your heart and lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Here are some important heart-healthy habits to adopt:
Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and mackerel, as well as lots of fruits and vegetables
Limit salt, sugar, processed and red meats, trans fats and cholesterol in your diet
Get moderate to vigorous exercise for at least 2.5 hours a week
Don't stay seated for too long at a time – get up regularly for a little walk!
Find time each day to unwind and relax
When should you seek medical help?
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms, see a doctor immediately or go to a 24-hour A&E clinic.
Pain, pressure or a heavy feeling in the chest, arm or upper abdomen area
Pain that radiates to the arm, back, jaw or throat
Sweating, nausea or vomiting
Shortness of breath or a choking sensation
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Signs of a stroke include:
Weakness or numbness on one side of the arm or leg
Slurred or garbled speech
A droop or uneven smile on the face
Sudden confusion or difficulty understanding speech
Sudden dizziness or lack of coordination
Remember, good hygiene, safe distancing and heart-healthy habits are key to protecting yourself during this time. Speak to a heart specialist regarding any concerns you may have about your heart’s health.
5 Things to Do Every Day to Keep Your Heart Healthy. (2019, Feb 15). Retrieved 3 May from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-things-to-do-every-day-to-keep-your-heart-healthy
Coronavirus, heart disease and stroke. (2020, April 20). Retrieved 1 May from https://www.heartandstroke.ca/articles/coronavirus-heart-disease-and-stroke
Coronavirus Precautions for Patients and Others Facing Higher Risks. (2020, April 15). Retrieved 30 April from https://www.heart.org/en/coronavirus/coronavirus-covid-19-resources/coronavirus-precautions-for-patients-and-others-facing-higher-risks
Top Healthy Habits for Your Heart. (2015, Jan 8). Retrieved 30 April from https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20150107/healthy-heart-habits
What Heart Patients Should Know about Coronavirus. (2020, March 20). Retrieved 1 May 2020 from https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/02/27/what-heart-patients-should-know-about-coronavirus
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