According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk of experiencing complications associated with COVID-19. This includes heart disease, coronary artery disease, and cardiomyopathies. As researchers continue to learn more about the virus, they have discovered that the virus can affect the heart even in individuals without underlying heart conditions.
The reality is that although COVID-19 primarily affects the lungs, it can affect many other organs in the body, including the heart and vascular system. This begs the question:How does the virus impact my cardiac health?
Dr. Henock Saint-Jaques of Harlem Cardiology encourages you to continue to receive your regular cardiac care and prioritize heart-healthy practices. If you have concerns about your heart health, we’re here to serve you.
In the meantime, we’ve created this guide to help you stay informed about your cardiac care during this time. Here’s what you need to know about cardiology and COVID-19.
COVID-19: What is it and what are the symptoms?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is a respiratory tract infection that attacks the upper and lower respiratory systems. As a respiratory tract infection, the most common symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, sore throat, and difficult breathing. The CDC has also reported other symptoms including such as a new loss of taste and/or smell, chills, aches, nausea, and diarrhea.
Can COVID-19 cause heart problems?
Yes, the virus can increase the risk of developing heart issues. The experts at John Hopkins explain how the coronavirus can attack the heart, and it all has to do with a certain type of protein. Both the lungs and heart contain a protein called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE-2. Unfortunately, the virus uses this protein as a gateway to enter further into your cells. Normally, this protein helps reduce inflammation, but when it’s compromised by the virus, it can lead to heart damage.
Other heart-related problems
There are three other ways that COVID-19 can impact your heart:
1. Lack of oxygen can make your heart work harder
If your lungs are filled with fluid (a common problem with the virus), less oxygen gets into your blood, and this in turn makes your heart have to pump harder to get oxygen where it needs to go. This is particularly risky if you have underlying heart conditions.
2. Increased risk of myocarditis
Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) can lead to muscle damage of your heart. Viruses, including both the flu and COVID-19, can increase your risk of inflammation, according to Mayo Clinic. Myocarditis can affect your heart’s ability to pump correctly, leading to irregular heartbeats.
3. Increased risk of stress cardiomyopathy
Sometimes called “broken heart syndrome” or takotsubo, stress cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. Cases of it are on the rise — and linked to COVID-19, according to recent studies. This condition also weakens the heart, particularly affecting the left ventricle.
Protecting the heart
This may seem like a lot of heavy news when it comes to cardiac health, but there is also good news. Researchers are working hard to find ways to protect the heart and reduce negative cardiac events associated with COVID-19. According to a recent study, anticoagulants indicate promising results when it comes to protecting the heart. When anticoagulants are included in the treatment for individuals with severe infections, the risk of serious heart-related complications (such as heart damage) is reduced.
Focus on heart-healthy activities
If you already have an underlying heart condition, it can be worrisome to read how COVID-19 can impact your heart health. You can support your heart by:
- Exercising regularly (if you’re cleared to exercise)
- Taking any medications as directed
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Avoiding excessive alcohol
- Stopping smoking
One of the most important things you can do during this time is to continue to manage any underlying conditions. If you’re due for an appointment, rest assured that we are following all guidelines issued by the CDC to keep our practice safe for you — and our staff.
At Harlem Cardiology, it’s our mission to make sure you receive the cardiac care you deserve. If you’d like to make an appointment today, call our East Harlem, New York, clinic at 646-381-2181.
You may also request an appointment online with our easy-to-use portal.