COVID-19 can damage the heart, but it’s worse for those with existing heart disease — here are ways to stay safer.
For a heart patient, avoiding infection with COVID-19 and keeping in touch with your cardiologist can be critical.
COVID-19 primarily attacks the lungs, but it can both directly and indirectly affect the heart as well. With less oxygen being processed by the lungs, the heart will need to pump harder to spread oxygen throughout the body. The virus can also directly infect the heart itself or lead to blood clots which may block the arteries in the heart.
Also, COVID-19 triggers inflammation that can affect the heart and increase the risk of damage in those with preexisting heart disease.
Data is still evolving, but it’s becoming clear that heart patients are at significantly greater risk of complications of COVID-19.
What heart patients should do
“This can be a dangerous time for heart patients,” said Joseph A Lash, M.D. “That makes it so much more important for heart patients to protect themselves and for those around them to take precautions.”
Preventive measures such as hand washing, staying home, wearing a mask when in public and practicing social distancing are even more critical.
If you develop COVID-19 symptoms such as a cough and fever, contact your primary care provider right away. COVID-19 tests are more available now, and knowing whether you have the coronavirus infection will help guide your treatment. If you think you are having heart related symptoms, do not let the fear of the coronavirus prevent you from calling your cardiologist or seeking immediate help.
- Take your temperature twice a day.
- Keep taking your medications. There is no evidence that heart drugs can affect the virus.
- Don’t stray from a heart-healthy diet, and keep up with exercise.
- Work with your cardiologist and other providers before taking any unproven drugs in relation to COVID-19.
Norton Heart & Vascular Institute
Our specialists treat more people for heart and vascular care — about 250,000 every year — than any other provider in Louisville and Southern Indiana.
Call for an appointment.
Don’t ignore symptoms or avoid emergency rooms
Another perplexing issue is that sometimes COVID-19 is mistaken for a heart attack. People have shortness of breath or pressure in the chest and think they are having a heart attack.
This information has doctors and hospitals reevaluating how they approach care for patients. Now, they must address the virus while also protecting the heart and cardiovascular system. Physicians may need to order heart-specific tests or monitor the heart very closely in patients with COVID-19.
Symptoms of a heart attack
- Uncomfortable pressure or squeezing in the center of the chest that goes away and comes back, or continues more than a few minutes
- Pain that spreads to one or both arms
- Pain or discomfort in the back, jaw, neck or stomach accompanied by pressure in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat, nausea or vomiting, combined with any of the above symptoms
If You Believe You Are Having a Heart Attack, Do Not Wait to Get Help
Call 911 or have someone take you to the nearest hospital emergency room. After calling 911, you can:
- Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed by your doctor.
- Take aspirin, but only if prescribed by your doctor. Aspirin can interact with other medications and should be taken only when advised by a medical professional.