Heart disease and COVID-19: Your 5-step plan to help you stay healthy
Protecting yourself from the coronavirus is still very important. Here are five simple defense moves to make now.
If you’re living with heart disease, you may be at higher risk for developing severe symptoms of COVID-19.
This high-risk group includes people who have survived a stroke or live with another heart condition like coronary heart disease or high blood pressure.
You’re not powerless, though. One of the best steps you can take is to be fully vaccinated. That includes staying up to date on booster shots. Currently, all Californians ages 6 months and older are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. To find out where to schedule an appointment, visit My Turn.
Taking a few extra, simple precautions goes a long way toward protecting yourself.
Defense move #1: Know what you’re up against.
The virus targets the respiratory system. But there’s a strong connection between heart disease and COVID-19. The harder your lungs have to work, the harder it becomes for your heart to send oxygenated blood throughout the body. Basically, the virus limits the heart’s ability to keep up with getting enough oxygen in the blood to other organs.
COVID-19 also creates severe inflammation in the body, including in the veins, arteries, and heart muscle. That’s according to a report in JAMA. That can cause an irregular heartbeat (known as arrhythmia) or lead to blood clots.
Defense move #2: Assume it’s still everywhere.
“Assume everyone around you has it and that you’re at risk,” says Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, a New York City–based cardiologist and national spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. “People can be carriers and not really know that they have it.”
If you have heart disease and are 65 or older, you need to be especially diligent about getting the updated booster.
In addition, Dr. Steinbaum suggests sticking with your treatment. If you have any concerns about medications that you’re taking, talk to your doctor. Do not stop taking medicine on your own.
It’s very important for people with heart disease to take steps to avoid COVID-19. “Prevention requires significant precautions,” Dr. Steinbaum says.
That includes continuing to mask up when you’re in public indoor spaces. The CDC’s most recent mask guidance for people at high risk:
- When the COVID-19 levels are high in your area, wear a high-quality mask (like an N-95 respirator mask). The mask should have a nose wire and fit snugly over your mouth, nose, and chin.
- Discuss with your doctor whether you should also wear a mask when the COVID-19 community spread level is medium.
- Avoid unnecessary travel.
- Stay away from large gatherings of people indoors, particularly when spread is high in your area.
- Wear a mask on planes, trains and buses.
Defense move #3: Adapt your routines.
It’s important to focus on your mental strength, Dr. Steinbaum says.
“How you perceive [COVID-19] and how you take care of yourself is psychological as much as it is physical,” she says. “They’re linked together.”
Depression, anxiety, and lack of sleep are major risk factors for heart disease. So Dr. Steinbaum tells her patients to focus on stress management.
Start by sticking (at least loosely) to a schedule and getting enough sleep. Even if you’re working from home, stick to your morning and evening routines. It will keep your body clock set.
Next up, eat well. “There’s no reason to binge on anything,” she says. “We’ve all probably done some of that! It’s time to put the potato chips away.”
Finally, move every day. “There’s a lot we can do without going to a gym,” Dr. Steinbaum says. “Walk in place, dance, do jumping jacks. Every day for 30 minutes, get up and do something to get your heart rate up.”
Defense move #4: Check in with your heart doctor.
Your cardiologist may have specific instructions they’d like you to follow now. Give them a call to share any concerns or questions you have.
And remember, if you feel any of the following symptoms, get emergency care right away:
- Crushing chest pain, including huge pressure on the chest or feeling like you can’t breath
Defense move #5: Have a sick plan.
These are some common signs of COVID-19, according to the CDC:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Muscle pain
- New loss of taste or smell
- Congestion or runny rose
- Nausea or vomiting
If you have any combination of these symptoms, or if your symptoms are getting worse, call your doctor.
You should get medical attention right away if you have a cough that is getting worse and shortness of breath, Dr. Steinbaum says. If you or your loved one calls 911, give the history of your heart problems, as well as your current COVID-19 symptoms. Also mention the medications you’re taking. Keep a list handy to share.
That last part is quite important. Knowing your medications, allergies, and medical history will help any physician or provider care for you.
“They’re going to know side effects of medications,” Dr. Steinbaum explains. The more information you can provide, the better.
“Don’t try anything on your own, especially if you have heart disease,” Dr. Steinbaum says. “Talk to your doctor or go to the emergency room.” You want to get help from the experts. These doctors have been treating COVID-19 infections for several years now — they will know the best treatments for you.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time and posting. Staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines is one of the best ways to limit the spread of the coronavirus. This includes getting booster shots such as the new bivalent booster when applicable. It’s also important to wear a mask indoors in public when the infection level is high in your area. According to the CDC’s latest guidance, respirator masks (like an N95 mask) provide the most protection. If you are at high risk of getting sick, keep your distance from others and avoid crowded places. Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, we encourage readers to follow the news and recommendations for their own communities by using the resources from the CDC, WHO, their local public health department, and our COVID-19 member site.
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