Protecting your heart is more important than ever during COVID-19

Chances are you already know the importance of monitoring your heart health. That’s especially true if you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease or high blood pressure, or you’ve been told you’re at risk for developing a cardiac condition. However, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has left many people wondering what’s the best and safest way to get care.

One high-risk group for COVID-19 is people with heart disease, including high blood pressure. For that reason, many people have been anxious about leaving home – even for the doctor’s office. In reality, managing heart conditions and maintaining communication with your doctor is more important than ever during a pandemic so that you can stay healthy and safe and further reduce your risk for serious complications.

Delaying care because of fears of COVID-19 can lead to long-term health consequences. If you notice new or worsening symptoms or have concerns about your condition, talk to your doctor right away.

Delaying care because of fears of COVID-19 can lead to long-term health consequences. If you notice new or worsening symptoms or have concerns about your condition, talk to your doctor right away. It’s safe to get care now, especially at Swedish where we have implemented several new safety precautions.

Why caring for your heart matters during a global pandemic

Skipping appointments or not being diligent with your cardiac care plan in the short-term can lead to long-term health issues, including heart attack, stroke and heart damage. It can also put you at higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19 if you do contract it, and in some stark cases, dying from the virus.

The American College of Cardiology (ACC) found that the death rate from COVID-19 for people with cardiovascular disease is approximately 10.5%, compared to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimated 0.4% risk of death for the general population. This holds true to what researchers and physicians have seen in China and Italy, as well.

  • In China, 25 to 50% of COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital had high blood pressure or another condition like cancer, diabetes or lung disease.
  • Italy experienced a similar pattern, but at a much higher rate. There, more than 76% of the people who died from the virus had high blood pressure.
  • In the U.S., the CDC is issuing similar reports — among people hospitalized in March with COVID-19, almost 90% had an underlying health condition. Nearly one-half of those individuals had high blood pressure, compared to just 35% who had chronic lung disease.

One reason people with heart disease may be at higher risk of COVID-19 is because of a weaker immune system which makes it harder to fight off infections. 

One reason people with heart disease may be at higher risk of COVID-19 is because of a weaker immune system which makes it harder to fight off infections. Another worry is that COVID-19 can damage the cardiovascular system – a serious issue for people already managing high blood pressure, heart disease and heart failure.

The good news is there are plenty of things you can do to stay healthy and safe during the global pandemic. And, that may mean seeing your doctor in the office or virtually.

Tips for managing heart conditions

A healthy diet, regular exercise and managing stress are just a few ways to manage heart disease and high blood pressure. But, stay-at-home orders and uncertainty during COVID-19 have made that a little more challenging than usual. The stress of COVID and not being able to get out and stay active can make it harder to manage your condition, but it doesn’t make it impossible.

The stress of COVID and not being able to get out and stay active can make it harder to manage your condition, but it doesn’t make it impossible.

Talk with your doctor before you embark on a new exercise regimen or before you change your diet or medications. The American Heart Association offers some advice to help you at home, including:

  • Follow your doctor’s advice including taking prescription medicine as directed.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine.
  • Avoid over-the-counter medicines that could interfere with your blood pressure, including decongestants or ibuprofen.
  • Talk to your doctor about prescription medicines that can raise blood pressure, like oral birth control or immunosuppressants.
  • Monitor your blood pressure with an at-home blood pressure cuff.
  • Get creative to stay active. Go for a walk or try exercises like high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Just be sure not to overdo it.
  • Make healthy eating a priority at home by cooking with clean ingredients.

And, of course, make sure you are taking steps to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19, including washing your hands, wearing a mask and following physical distancing guidelines.

Tips for preventing heart conditions

Taking good care of your heart is good advice for everyone – whether you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, are at risk or are currently feeling fit as a fiddle.

Manage stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are at all-time highs right now and can manifest in many different ways – from grief, lack of energy, loss of interest in favorite activities or being unmotivated to eat healthy and get active.

That can be troubling as stress and anxiety impact your blood pressure in the short and long term. Eating an unhealthy diet or skipping workouts can ultimately lead to a higher risk of heart disease or complications.

Make your mental health a priority and gain physical benefits:

  • Exercise 20-30 minutes, 5 days a week.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine.
  • Connect with friends and family members virtually.
  • Talk to a mental health professional.
  • Try a meditation app to refocus.
  • Sweat out stress by cleaning your house.

If you need help developing a plan for self-care that can support your mental health, the Swedish Behavioral Health team can help.

Know your risk of heart disease

It can be easy to brush health questions or concerns aside during a pandemic. But, if you have a family history of heart conditions or other health issues, it’s important now more than ever to stay on track with care from your doctor

High blood pressure doesn’t always have recognizable symptoms. Regular wellness visits and screenings can identify risk factors and give you a baseline to create a prevention plan.

Know when, where to get help

Most importantly, make sure you know what do to if your symptoms worsen or you experience a life-threatening emergency, like a heart attack.

Heart attacks and stroke happen, even during a global pandemic. Unfortunately, people are scared to go to the ER or are concerned about burdening their local hospital. But, don’t let those fears stop you from coming in.

“Our emergency departments have not been seeing the number of patients we typically see with heart attack symptoms or other cardiac events and it’s not because these medical emergencies aren’t occurring. Heart attacks and stroke happen, even during a global pandemic,” says Dr. Matthew Hartman, cardiologist at Swedish. “Unfortunately, people are scared to go to the ER or are concerned about burdening their local hospital. That couldn’t be further from the case. We are here, ready to safely treat you.”

Call 911 immediately if you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, including:

  • A rise in blood pressure - if you have a cuff, monitor for 180/120 or above
  • Chest or back pain
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Loss of vision
  • Difficulty breathing or speaking

An emergency medical technician can start administering lifesaving care in your home and get you to the nearest hospital for additional testing and treatment. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Find the care that’s right for you

As our society begins to reopen, we are each finding ourselves facing a new normal. That includes weighing the benefits and risks of running errands, getting carryout and even heading to the doctor. That’s why we’ve developed several different ways for you to get the care you need. 

Telehealth visits can be a great opportunity to check in with your provider and get advice about necessary follow-up care.

And, rest assured that if you do need in-person care, we’re doing everything in our power to keep you safe when you’re here. Our team is implementing several new safety steps to help ensure your safety when you’re in one of our facilities. We’re following the CDC recommendations for screening, masking, distancing and sanitizing as well as isolating COVID-19 patients from the rest of the population. We also are offering virtual visits – a reliable way to see your doctor from the comfort of your home. Your safety is our priority. It’s our pledge to you.

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Find a doctor

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Cardiac care can save lives. Learn More. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding your heart health. And learn what we’re doing to keep you safe when you visit www.swedish.org/covid-19.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

 

 

About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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