The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is starting to hit home for many people in America. The World Health Organization classified it as a pandemic this week, as the outbreak now extends across the globe. Communities are working together to limit its
spread. Schools are closing, conferences and public events are being canceled—even professional and college sports have either canceled tournaments or suspended their seasons.
While everyone is on alert, people with heart disease seem to be at higher risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19. The American College of Cardiology has issued a clinical bulletin to offer guidance about the coronavirus and treating patients
with heart conditions (“COVID-19 Clinical Guidance For the Cardiovascular Care Team”).
Although what we know is changing rapidly, here are important takeaways for patients and their families.
The new virus was first reported late December in China. As of March 11, it had affected more than 100 countries, including the United States. The main symptoms of the disease are:
- Shortness of breath
For most people—80% of cases—the illness is mild. However, the virus can cause severe illness with complications such as pneumonia, organ failure, and death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
those who have a higher chance of getting very sick include people who:
- Are older than 65
- Have heart disease
- Have lung disease
Patients with underlying health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or cancer, also are at greater risk of death from COVID-19.
“Although you may feel overwhelmed by all the talk about
the coronavirus, it is important to know if you are at risk and how to do your best to prevent getting infected,” says Martha Gulati, MD, FACC, and editor-in-chief of CardioSmart. “By staying away from others who are sick and following
restrictions at work or in our communities, we will be doing our part to help contain this virus.”
Patients with Heart Conditions
If you have a heart condition, you should take extra care to protect yourself during the COVID-19 outbreak. Here are some ways to stay healthy.
Defend Against Infection
It’s important for patients with heart disease to follow CDC recommendations to prevent infection. The virus is thought to spread from person to person among individuals within 6 feet of one another after someone with the virus sneezes or coughs.
Defensive steps everyone can take include:
- Avoid people who are sick
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Cover your mouth when you cough or use the inside of your elbow
- Cover your nose when you sneeze or use the inside of your elbow
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Clean surfaces touched often like doorknobs, handles, steering wheels, or light switches with a disinfectant to remove the virus
In addition, people at higher risk should practice social distancing by avoiding large gatherings and limiting travel.
Although there is not yet a vaccine for coronavirus, people with heart conditions should stay up to date on their vaccinations such as those for pneumonia and flu.
Ask About Telehealth (Remote/Virtual) Visits
If you live in an area with a coronavirus outbreak and are managing your heart condition well, it might be an option to substitute a telehealth visit for a routine, in-person medical visit. That would help limit possible contact with others who may have
the virus. Talk to your health care professional to find out if this would be appropriate for you.
Keep Up Healthy Habits
While the news about the virus outbreak may seem overwhelming at times, it’s important not to lose sight of your overall health. Remember to eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, and manage stress.
If you experience symptoms,
such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath, call your health care professional.
Treatment for virus infections, including COVID-19, typically involves rest and staying hydrated. If you have heart failure, excess fluid in your body
may be a concern. So, ask your health care professional about extra monitoring you might need.
Also, if you are taking medicine for a health condition, including heart disease or diabetes, problems may occur if you skip a dose or
stop it altogether. Don't change your medications or treatment without first talking to your health care professional.
Note: This story was updated March 30, 2020, to reflect the CDC’s new guidance that adults 65 and older are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.