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.
If you experience signs of a heart attack or stroke, head to your nearest A&E department immediately. Get a family member to drive you or call an ambulance at +65 6473 2222 for immediate medical attention.
Signs of a heart attack include:
- 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.
Article reviewed by Dr Lim Choon Pin, cardiologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospitals
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