Get answers to some frequently asked questions about the Delta variant

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. 

Keeping your heart healthy is very important — heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and can seriously affect your quality of life.

It’s especially important to take care of your heart as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. The first case of COVID-19 was identified in November 2019. Ever since, cardiovascular experts like Aryan Aiyer, MD, cardiologist, UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, have worked to understand how the disease affects heart health.

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Heart Health and COVID-19

Problems with your heart health include heart disease, vascular disease, and heart failure.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and can affect different people in different ways. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD). It occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Other heart conditions include arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and preeclampsia (postpartum hypertension).

Vascular disease describes problems with the vascular system. That’s the network of arteries and veins that carry blood from your heart to the rest of the body. Peripheral artery disease (PAD), for example, is a buildup of plaque in the arteries that supply blood outside of the heart. Other forms of vascular disease include thoracic aneurysm and carotid artery stenosis.

Heart failure is characterized as a weakening of the heart muscle. For various reasons, the heart can lose its ability to effectively pump blood throughout the body.

How Heart Health Risk Factors Relate to COVID-19

It’s important to pay attention to your risk factors for heart disease, vascular disease, and heart failure, according to Dr. Aiyer. People who have these conditions or are at risk for developing them have a greater risk for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms which can lead to hospitalization.

Heart disease risk factors

Some general risk factors for heart disease include:

  • Age
  • Diet
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure

Vascular disease risk factors

Many risk factors for vascular disease are similar to those for heart disease, including:

  • Age
  • Family history of vascular disease
  • High blood pressure

You also are at an increased risk for vascular disease if you have end-stage kidney disease.

Heart failure risk factors

Some general risk factors for heart failure include:

  • A previous heart attack that weakened the heart muscle
  • Congenital heart disease
  • High blood pressure

Different people have different heart health risk factors. But Dr. Aiyer says women face additional risk factors for heart disease such as:

  • Hormonal changes during menopause: The drop in estrogen levels that women experience during menopause can increase blood pressure which can increase their risk for heart disease.
  • Pregnancy: During pregnancy, women can develop high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and other conditions that increase their heart health risk.

Taking Care of Your Heart Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic goes on, the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated against the virus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved or authorized three COVID-19 vaccines — developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (J&J). More than 180 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. These vaccines are safe and highly effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.

It’s also important to protect yourself from the flu by getting a flu shot. Public health experts fear that a severe flu season combined with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could cause a “twindemic.” Flu shots are safe and highly effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death from the seasonal flu.

Public health guidelines everyone should follow as the COVID-19 pandemic continues include wearing a face mask in public, social distancing, and avoiding large crowds. According to Dr. Aiyer, it’s especially important for people with underlying heart conditions, or people who are at risk for developing them, to follow public health guidelines.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Shortness of breath

If you have a heart condition and experience these symptoms, it’s critical to tell your doctor right away.

Why Choose the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute?

When you choose the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, you’re choosing a comprehensive team of experts who have the necessary skills to treat complex medical conditions. Our experts take a multidisciplinary approach to address the complexities of heart disease when combined with other conditions like COVID-19.

To learn more about the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, call 1-855-876-2484 or visit our website.

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.