Here's what you need to know about Living With Heart Disease During COVID-19

Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments. 

For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted medical care. Maybe you delayed some services because you were nervous about viral exposure. But people with heart disease and cardiovascular issues need to keep up with routine care, especially as the pandemic continues.

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COVID-19 Risk and Heart Disease

People with cardiovascular conditions may be at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that primarily attacks the lungs, causing inflammation. Lung inflammation makes it harder for you to breathe. When you have trouble breathing, your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. This extra strain on the heart leads to dangerous complications for people with heart disease.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, dry cough, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and loss of taste or smell. Many people manage their symptoms at home or with their doctor. But sometimes severe complications arise.

If you have any type of heart disease, contact your doctor if you develop symptoms of COVID-19. Your doctor can advise you on how to best care for and monitor yourself at home — and when you should get emergency care.

Common complications from COVID-19 include pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome, which may require ventilator support. But new research suggests COVID-19 may worsen underlying heart failure. Researchers continue to study how the virus affects the heart and people with heart conditions.

Taking Care of Your Heart

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to manage heart disease. Although it’s normal to feel concerned about visiting a hospital or clinic, you should receive any care recommended by your doctor, even if that care is in person. Get emergency care if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, lightheadedness, or fainting.

Follow all public health guidelines for disinfecting your home, washing your hands, and wearing a facemask when you go out. Stay home when you can, and keep distance between you and other people when you can’t. Be sure you keep your medicines refilled, so you don’t fall behind on your treatment.

To protect your heart, engage in heart-healthy habits. Keep your blood pressure under control. Follow a heart-healthy diet and get regular exercise. Establish an at-home exercise routine or exercise outdoors at times when you can keep safe distances. Aside from avoiding virus exposure, strengthening your heart is one more way to stay healthy.

Talk to your doctor or schedule a virtual visit if you have signs of worsening heart disease. You need a strong heart during and after the pandemic. Doctors can safely care for you during this time, so don’t ignore symptoms.

How UPMC Keeps You Safe

Heart disease is a serious chronic illness that requires regular medical management. During the height of the outbreak, the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute postponed some nonurgent care. But UPMC has protocols in place to protect you — and the capacity to see people with heart disease again.

Here are steps we’re taking:

Virtual visits

People with heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions need to check in with their doctor regularly. However, you don’t always have to visit in person.

UPMC gives you the option to do video visits if your doctors think they can manage your care virtually. In some cases, your doctor may need to do a physical exam to ensure the best care.

Screening at the facility

Everyone who enters a UPMC facility undergoes a screening procedure. This includes a temperature check and answering a few questions about symptoms and potential virus exposure.

Universal masking policy

All staff, visitors, and patients must wear a facemask while in UPMC facilities. You can wear a surgical mask or cloth face covering. If you do not have one, UPMC will provide one.

Routine cleaning

All hospital areas undergo routine cleaning with hospital grade disinfectants. High-touch areas are cleaned more frequently to keep you safe.

Visitor limitations

UPMC continues to restrict visitors unless they are essential to your care. Family or friends who drive you to an appointment should plan to wait in the parking lot. Reducing the number of people in the building allows us to maintain social distancing.

Testing before procedures

If you need a procedure, you will be offered COVID-19 testing a few days before you come to the hospital. If you are negative, we continue care as usual. If you have a positive test result, we may recommend you delay your procedure if it’s safe to do so.

It’s normal to feel a little nervous about coming to the hospital for care. However, your heart health cannot be ignored. At UPMC, we’re doing everything we can to keep our patients, providers, and staff safe. If you have any concerns about visiting, call your doctor’s office to discuss what precautions you can take.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with Certain Medical Conditions.

Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Research reveals heart complications in COVID-19 patients.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.