Scientists and healthcare professionals are learning more about the coronavirus every day. If you are reading this article, there’s a strong chance that either you or someone you love has questions about COVID-19 and the specific effects on patients with heart disease or other cardiovascular issues.
Below, I will help explain what physicians have observed to date, including the symptoms that heart patients may experience if they have the coronavirus, and what they should do if they think they have contracted the virus.
As A Heart Patient, Am I More at Risk From COVID-19?
The coronavirus was first detected in China in 2019 but has since spread through person-to-person contact to other parts of the world, including the United States. While more than 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild, there are specific portions of the population who the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified as being more at risk for severe illness related to the virus. This list includes people with heart disease or serious existing heart conditions.
The American Heart Association has warned that elderly people with coronary heart disease or hypertension could be more likely to become infected, as well as more likely to develop severe symptoms due to the coronavirus. People with heart disease are also seemingly at a higher risk for contracting the disease, as well as a higher risk for suffering complications.
Additionally, patients with heart failure, heart valve disease, congenital heart disease (any type) and cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body, any type) are also at an increased risk of severe symptoms caused by the coronavirus. These patients should take the same precautionary measures as patients with heart disease and avoid exposure to the virus by all possible means.
If I Am A Heart Patient with Coronavirus, What Symptoms Will I Experience?
The coronavirus is a respiratory illness that is typically spread through droplets that are produced when someone coughs or sneezes. These germs can then land in the mouth or nose of another nearby person and be inhaled into the lungs.
Common symptoms for people with heart conditions include cough, shortness of breath and fever. In some heart patients, chest pressure has been observed as an early symptom, although it still remains unclear whether this symptom is unique to patients with cardiovascular disease.
Early research indicates that COVID-19 can cause damage to the heart muscle and can cause myocarditis, which is inflammation or infection of the heart muscle that can reduce your heart’s ability to pump as well as cause abnormal heart rhythm.
How Do I Prevent Myself from Getting Sick?
The precautions all people should take in order to prevent and limit exposure to the coronavirus include the following:
- Practice social distancing and keep 6 feet of distance between you and other people. COVID-19 can be spread by droplets in the air, which are released when people sneeze or cough.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently throughout the day for 20 seconds each time. Or, wash your hands with hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Avoid touching your face. Cover your sneeze with a tissue and throw it away immediately, or sneeze into your elbow.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using household cleaning spray or disinfecting wipe.
- If you’re sick, stay home. Do not spend time around other people. Ochsner patients can message their doctors through MyOchsner if they have concerns and/or develop a fever. Your doctor may decide it is best to conduct a virtual visit with you via smartphone or tablet.
- If you live with someone who is not feeling well, that person should be isolated in a separate part of the home. You should not share towels, dishes, bedding and other personal items. If possible, use separate bathrooms. Do not sleep in the same bed.
In order to minimize contact with the general public, heart patients should consider having food brought to their homes by family, social, or commercial networks rather than visiting grocery stores themselves.
In early December 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their recommendations regarding COVID-19 exposure quarantine. While this doesn't apply to healthcare workers and other essential personnel, the guidance now states that quarantine can end after 10 days (rather than 14) with no testing and no symptoms. Quarantine can end after seven days with a negative test and no symptoms.
If I Am A Heart Disease Patient, Should I Keep Taking My Medications?
Yes. All patients currently taking medications to treat or regulate heart issues should continue taking their medications as prescribed. Not taking your medications as recommended can cause health problems that are not related to the coronavirus. As medical staff are engaged with treating the most sick and vulnerable patients, you should do everything you can to remain healthy and out of the hospital environment including taking your heart medication as it was prescribed to you.
If I Am Diagnosed With COVID-19, What Should I Do?
If you are tested for COVID-19, the AHA is recommending that patients communicate preexisting health conditions to the testing center, and to reach out to their health care providers to inform them that they are awaiting the results of a coronavirus test. Once it has been determined that you have contracted the virus, your care team will assess your condition to determine a treatment plan based on your individual level of risk.
If you are deemed to be able to shelter-in-place, you will remain at home for the minimum 14-days in order to recuperate while limiting the spread of the virus to the general population. If heart patients begin to experience symptom including trouble breathing, shortness of breath, and chest pain, they are advised to call a physician immediately and possibly contact 911.
In Louisiana, 3.9% of adults have some form of heart disease, while 34.1% have high blood pressure. Nearly 40% of adults in the state have high cholesterol. At 21.9%, our state also has a relatively high number of smokers. If you are over age 60 or have underlying health conditions, you should exercise even more precautions against the coronavirus than other members of the community.
Create a health plan for yourself in case you do become sick, including identifying a caregiver who can bring you the things you will need to recover while you are socially isolating. Talk with your doctor about your specific level of coronavirus risk, and how to decide if you will need to be tested. Above all, continue to maintain distance from others until the spread has diminished and public health experts have announced that things are safe.
For the Latest Updates from Ochsner on COVID-19, visit Ochsner.org/coronavirus
The information in this blog post is accurate at the time of publication. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change, it's possible that information has changed since being published. While Ochsner Health is trying to keep our blog posts as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC website.